Neighbors weigh in on Washington Arboretum environmental education center building concepts

Master Plan Implementation Group to provide future design guidance in February

Neighbors weigh in on Washington Arboretum environmental education center building concepts

Neighbors weigh in on Washington Arboretum environmental education center building concepts

The Dec. 5 presentation can be viewed below this article. Anyone who did not provide comments at the meeting can do so through mid-January by contacting SPR project manager Susanne Rockwell at or 206-684-7133.

Washington Park Arboretum supporters and neighbors packed a Dec. 5 preliminary design meeting to share their thoughts about siting and programming for an environmental education center that will be years in the making.

A Master Plan Implementation Group will likely decide which of the three building concepts developed by Mithun architecture firm should proceed with further design sometime in February, said Susanne Rockwell, Seattle Parks and Recreation project manager.

Once a preferred design rendering is crafted, the University of Washington Botanic Garden and the Arboretum Foundation, which funded the $200,000 pre-design study for the environmental education center, can begin a capital campaign.

Rockwell said the project will not require any public funds, and the hope is to keep the Graham Visitors Center open once construction starts in several years.

Mithun architects went over the three building concepts during the Dec. 5 pre-design meeting, which primarily focused on where the environmental education center should be sited and how that would correlate with the doubling of existing parking.

The arboretum master plan originally proposed moving Arboretum Drive from the west side of the Graham Visitors Center to the east, abutting the Broadmoor golf course. An environmental education center would have then been sited just west of the visitors center. The Master Plan Implementation Group decided not to go with that plan, Rockwell said.

The first option Mithun presented would site the environmental education center north of the visitors center, with views of Duck Bay. A wide intersection would be created on Arboretum Drive to accommodate buses turning around after dropping off or picking up students visiting the education center, and guest parking would be extended south; parking for four buses would be created on Foster Island Road. The Duck Bay option would require relocating a maintenance shed near a southern meadow in the arboretum.

Mithun partner Richard Franko tells MPT the Duck Bay option is the only one of the three that could benefit from using solar panels, as large trees to the west would overshadow the other sites.

The Duck Bay option breaks up the building into an L shape, with an adjacent cafe.

The second option would position the environmental education center directly south and linear to the visitors center.

Mithun architect Leah Davis said the linear option would provide views of the UW Botanic Garden’s tree collection, and would also allow for a larger shared patio space. A nursery and greenhouse behind the visitors center would be relocated to the south.

Vehicles could turn around behind the education center, while buses would need to exit onto Arboretum Drive and circle back around; bus parking would be the same as the Duck Bay option.

This option shows the education center as a two-story facility, but Franko tells MPT it’s possible plans could change further in the design process.

The environmental education center requires classroom space for Fiddleheads Preschool, field trips, summer camps, teen programs and adult education. There will also be expanded restrooms, outdoor covered space, a cafe, storage and multipurpose space that needs to be designed for on the campus.

The final concept presented would site the education center so it abuts the southern meadow, which would require creating a green pathway to reach it.

“One thing that came across to us is they do a lot of their educational programming and actions out here in the meadow,” Davis said, “and so we thought, ‘Well, why not do a really immersive experience for the education center.’”

Mithun landscape architect Dakota Keene said the meadow option would have the most impact to existing vegetation, and Duck Bay would have the least. All high-value trees on the property that could be impacted were rated, Keene said, and most could either be transplanted or propagated.

The environmental education center is meant to be its own example of sustainability, which is why, on top of seeking LEED Gold, the project also is aiming to qualify for the Living Building Challenge green-building certification program.

Plans shown on Dec. 5 include a rainwater collection system, a watershed education trail, digital energy-use displays and phytoremediation in the parking area — using trees and plants to clean up run-off before it reaches Duck Bay. Most of the run-off from hardscapes in the area is currently entering the bay untreated, Keene said. This will create a functional landscape, “where it also picks up on the idea that this is an opportunity for teaching people who visit here, by slowing the water down, treating it, cooling it before it gets into the Duck Bay watershed and the watersheds beyond.”


Arboretum EEC Public Meeting Dec 5 FINAL by branax2000 on Scribd