Seattle Parks and Recreation unveils the $100 million Green Lake Community Center

Coinciding with the third and final installment of a series of public feedback-seeking online open houses, Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) recently released conceptual renderings from architecture firm Miller Hull Partnership and landscape architecture practice Berger Partnership that show a new community center at the city’s cherished and heavily-used Green Lake Park.

Centered around a titular 259-acre freshwater lake in north-central Seattle, the Olmsted Brothers-designed green space was established in 1908 and is best known for the 2.8-mile multi-lane recreational path that encircles the lake and its wealth of (occasionally surprising, sometimes panic-inducing) urban wildlife. Nestled alongside the eastern shore of the lake, the park’s existing art deco community center opened in 1928 while the adjacent indoor public swimming pool, Evans Pool, debuted in 1955.

aerial view of a lakeside community center surrounded by a park, the Green Lake Community Center
Aerial view of the Green Lake Community Center and Evans Pool captured in 1995. (Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

The Green Lake Community Center—complete with gym, dedicated meeting and activity spaces, second-floor “tot room,” and restroom/shower facilities—is one of the oldest of the 26 community centers operated by the parks department. While its popularity hasn’t wavered, the nonagenarian neighborhood hub has been showing its advanced age for some time. A $750,000 multi-phase stabilization project is currently underway so that it can remain open to the public and, to date, numerous fixes have been completed including a crucial roof repair, the installation of a new pool pump, and electrical improvements. Per the SPR, new boilers and an upgraded ventilation system are next up. Meanwhile, both the community center and pool remain closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While these much-needed repairs will enable the Green Lake Community Center and Evans Pool to remain open in the immediate years to come, the eyes of most Seattleites are fixed on what’s to come further down the line: A brand new community center that, at 90,000 square feet, will be three times the size of the current one.

interior rendering of a timber framed gathering place
An airy welcome hall will serve as a natural place to congregate. (Miller Hull Partnership and Berger Partnership/Courtesy Seattle Parks and Recreation)

As David Graves, a strategic advisor with the parks department, told the Seattle Times, the new Green Lake Community Center will cost an estimated $100 to $120 million—that’s well over three times the cost of the most expensive community center built in the city’s history, a $32 million LEED Gold recreational center and pool that debuted in the South Seattle neighborhood of Rainer Beach in 2013.

The spacious new Green Lake Community Center is slated to feature many of the same amenities as the existing facility while introducing new ones in an effort to introduce a broader range of programming and place additional emphasis on inclusivity and accessibility. The planning and early design phases also come just ahead of next year’s scheduled opening of Roosevelt Station, a new light rail station part of Sound Transit’s Link Northgate extension. Located roughly 20 minutes by foot and less than 10 minutes by bike from Green Lake (also, somewhat confusingly, the name of a residential neighborhood that surrounds the lake to the north and east), the new station will no doubt lead to an influx of visitors to the already wildly popular park, which isn’t just the busiest city park in Seattle but the busiest in all of Washington.

exterior of a glassy building with timber cantilever
A western view of the Green Lake Community Center with its lake-facing community porch and second-floor event space. (Miller Hull Partnership and Berger Partnership/Courtesy Seattle Parks and Recreation)

The conceptual designs, along with a preliminary site plan created by Miller Huller Partnership and Berger Partnership, take into account community input from two previous online open houses, held in May and late July.

During the first open house, over 4,000 participants completed an accompanying survey and overwhelmingly responded that they’d prefer the new community center to stay in the same spot as the existing one when presented with six possible redevelopment sites around the lake. While the new community center has a much larger footprint than the current facility, most of the existing park amenities that neighbor the redevelopment area—tennis courts, playfields, a boathouse, and a swimming beach—will remain untouched per community recommendations gleaned from the second online open house. A sycamore-lined allée connecting the community center and its main east entry with East Green Lake Drive North will also be left undisturbed. The existing playground and parking lot, however, will be rearranged to make way for the new building and a large lawn that currently flanks the playground will disappear completely.

site plan of a forthcoming gathering space with different activity zones
Level 1 floor plan (Miller Hull Partnership and Berger Partnership/Courtesy Seattle Parks and Recreation)
floor plan of a community center
Level 2 floor plan (Miller Hull Partnership and Berger Partnership/Courtesy Seattle Parks and Recreation)

As for the community center itself, the building will be bisected by a soaring “welcome hall” with two swimming pools, spa, locker room facilities, and party room on one side and a gym, play area, childcare space, public hygiene station, and large activity space on the other. The second level will feature a versatile event space with lake views and a wraparound terrace along with a suite of dedicated activity rooms. Directly facing the park’s trail and swimming beach on the center’s lake-facing western side will be a large outdoor “community porch” and promenade. Also outside will be a new nature-themed adventure playground to the north of the new building and new basketball courts, exercise equipment, bocce courts, and outdoor ping-pong tables to the south and east.

Ideas for additional amenities are being solicited as part of a survey generated for the third online open house, which will end on December 4. This all being said, certain elements will likely be changed and tweaked as the redevelopment plan progresses out of the initial planning phase and into the schematic design stage.

According to a project schedule shared by SPR, the design and permitting process will last through 2023, followed by a bidding phase. If the schedule holds, construction will kick off in 2024 with an expected opening date in 2026. As noted on the redevelopment and stabilization project website, beyond the $1 million in funding secured to perform site analysis and commence initial design work, “the remaining dollars to complete the design and construct the new center and pool have not yet been identified.”

As the Times pointed out, in 2017 the parks department floated the idea of initiating a public-private partnership with a nonprofit operator, such as the YMCA, to help foot the steep bill involved with replacing the aging community center at Green Lake Park. That idea, however, was ultimately shot down by community members concerned about the privatization of one of Seattle’s most beloved public assets.

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