Contractors begin work on $54M Asian art museum renovation, expansion

BNBuilders expect work to finish in May 2019

Contractors begin work on $54M Asian art museum renovation, expansion

Contractors begin work on $54M Asian art museum renovation, expansion

The fence is up around the Seattle Asian Art Museum, where interior work has already started on the $54 million renovation and expansion.

Representatives from the head contractor, Seattle Art Museum and city parks department on March 2 gave an overview of the roughly 15-month process that will be taking place in Volunteer Park, with most of the outside impacts expected between April and June. In between presentation slides, they answered a bevy of questions from concerned residents and park supporters.

Eighty percent of the construction will be for renovation work, said SAM chief operating officer Richard Beckerman. That includes seismic stabilization of the 85-year-old structure — some interior walls consisting of hollow clay — a new mechanical system and climate controls.

The other 20 percent will be for new features, such as a conservation studio, an improved loading dock that includes an elevator big enough to move artwork and a 12,000-square-foot, three-story expansion on the east side of the museum for new gallery, office, meeting and education space.

While demolition work goes on inside the museum, the next few months will also be spent relocating utilities, said Jeremy Jones, BNBuilders superintendent. That includes a water main reroute and installing a new fire hydrant.

“We are actually in the building doing demolition now,” Jones said. “We will start the expansion in April.”

The construction work schedule will be 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with truck deliveries to take place earlier in the day to minimize impacts.

Jones said new park paths from 15th Avenue East are expected to be in place before the Memorial Day weekend.

BNBuilders will also be working with Seattle City Light to provide new power service to the museum through a series of conduits that will run underground from 15th Avenue East to the back of the building. Jones said it should only take up to four months to dig a 3 1/2-foot trench for the duct bank, which will require running through a major park path. The trench would be covered when work is not taking place, he added, and the displaced path will be replaced as soon as possible.

The trenching for the duct bank was a new project activity to John Colwell, a member of the Protect Volunteer Park group that formed in opposition to the expansion portion of the project that will take up about 3,500 square feet of park space.

Colwell and other meeting attendees expressed concern about the safety of the surrounding trees.

Seattle Parks and Recreation project manager Kelly Gould said one cherry tree at the end of its life was removed, as was a partially dead conifer. Two memorial trees are being relocated, and two beech trees will remain. He added an arborist would be performing weekly inspections around the construction site.

PVP member Eliza Davidson said she doesn’t believe the protection measures put in place by the contractors extends to the full tree canopy. Beckerman assured residents trees would be protected, citing BNBuilders’ work on Denny Hall at the University of Washington as an example of successfully working around such vegetation.

Colwell also protested SAM sending out solicitations for donations of $1,000 to members that would get their names on plaques wrapped around the podiums where the Asian art museum’s iconic stone camels sit at the front entrance, saying the city hasn’t even granted the organization permission for the installation. SAM placed the camels there after the original marble statues were moved downtown. Beckerman said installing the plaques should be a simple administrative process, and told the Madison Park Times the camels were not included in the landmark process for the historic museum. Resident and park steward Charles Ragen asked, and was granted permission to review documentation of ownership of the camels. 

BNBuilders expects to be done with construction in May 2019, at which point SAM will be able to restore collections to the museum and reopen in the fall. There are plans for a ceremonial groundbreaking on Tuesday, March 13.

Construction updates should be available throughout the 15-month process at At the urging of meeting goers, Gould said SPR would also provide a link on its website, which he conceded is not great for navigating projects. 

The Seattle City Council approved a new 55-year lease with SAM back in January, along with a development agreement that includes a list of negotiated benefits and a land use code amendment to allow the project to proceed in a single-family zone.

The city is contributing $19 million toward the renovation and expansion — not counting the $2 million provided for pre-design work — as well as annual operational support.

That annual support is scheduled to be $250,000 for the first five years, $275,000 the next five years, $300,000 in years 11-15 and then increases by $50,000 every five years. By the end of the lease agreement, the city’s annual contribution will be $700,000.