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PNA unveils first design proposals to renovate campus

Dozens of people gathered at the Phinney Neighborhood Association Wednesday evening for an open house and design presentation of proposed renovations to the PNA campus.

Donors to the PNA’s Capital Campaign, as well as PNA staff and community members, were invited to meet with architects and other members of the design team to see three proposed design schemes. The PNA’s Capital Campaign is a $7 million project to improve its long-time home. (The original Capital Campaign was set at $12 million, but has been scaled back. It has now raised a total of $5 million.)

Dave Goldberg of Mithun (second from right) discusses the proposed plans with PNA Executive Director Lee Harper (left) and neighbor Glen Beebe.

Phase I of the Capital Campaign included the purchase of the historic John B. Allen School at 6532 Phinney Ave. N. from the Seattle School District in 2009. Phase I also included sewer repair, a new boiler, and the replacement of the Brick Building’s roof in 2009.

The Capital Campaign is now in Phase II, which includes improvements to the Blue Building, including a new entryway, elevator, ADA upgrades to bathrooms, seismic upgrades, better  landscaping, improved access from Phinney Avenue, and a long-term vision for a sustainable PNA campus.

A major part of the new design is creating a grand entrance to the Blue Building, including an elevator and staircase. The old front door is on the south side, and rarely used. The current front door is actually the old fire escape. It has functioned fine for years, but is not the most hospitable welcome for visitors.

“We want to create a more gracious welcome,” PNA Executive Director Lee Harper explained at the beginning of the meeting.

A model of the Blue Building shows a proposed new entry at right.

Dave Goldberg, principal at Mithun, which is designing the project, knows the PNA well because his children attend the Phinney Neighborhood Preschool Co-op. He noted that the PNA has long wanted to renovate the campus.

“Designing is definitely a process, and it’s been a process for many years now,” Goldberg said, citing redesign plans dating to the mid-1980s.

Renovation ideas have gone through many iterations after input from various stakeholder groups, and Mithun presented three “schemes” on Wednesday. While they are numbered 6, 7 and 8, they are nicknamed “outie,” “innie” and “Phinney.” Those nicknames refer to the proposed new grand entry on the north side of the Blue Building. Two of the schemes would place either the restrooms or elevator inside the existing building, while one scheme would place everything outside the current building.

“All the schemes try to touch the Blue Building very lightly,” Goldberg explained.

Proposed plans for the Blue Building, the main building along Phinney Avenue where PNA offices are located, includes a number of factors, such as:

  • Safety/security
  • Drop-off and pick-up areas for child-care programs
  • Accessibility (including an elevator and ADA bathrooms)
  • Welcoming atmosphere
  • Better identity for the PNA from Phinney Avenue
  • Social/gathering spaces
  • Better signage
  • Events messaging
  • More storage
  • Retain historic character

The new lobby would have windows to the north and east, bringing in natural light and better sightlines to those parts of campus.

And instead of looking at the new front entrance as being next to a parking lot, they wanted to look at the entire site “as a beautiful forest,” that happens to have some parking spaces. Some parking spaces will be eliminated with the new entry, but they don’t know yet how many.

Goldberg explained that the new entry way will complement the existing historic building, but will not necessary match it identically. He said the Landmarks Preservation Board prefers that additions to historic buildings be clearly distinguishable so that someone isn’t confused about which part is historic and which is new.

The water cisterns, currently directly under the front door and walkway, will be relocated nearby. They hope to have some kind of interesting water feature that brings water from the roof down to the new cisterns. Strollers and bicycles will have a covered storage area near the front entry.

They also are considering adding photovoltaic panels on top of the new entryway, to create a “net zero” energy addition.

The only real change to the lower level of the Blue Building will be the new entrance, with the elevator and stairs to the upper floors. The rest of the inside will be largely untouched, leaving the Blue and Red rooms, and existing bathrooms. However, they will likely add another door that could be keyed as a layer of security for the preschool programs housed there.

All three plans would have a small plaza in front of the building, keeping cars further away from the entryway. While not part of current plans, the PNA hopes to eventually move the stairs down to the Brick Building closer to the Blue Building and away from the parking lot.

The reception area would be more open visually than it is now, as a half-height walled room with sliding windows. The current reception area is not original to the building. They also plan to place security cameras in the Art Gallery upstairs.

The renovation plans to adhere to the Living Building Challenge, a set of environmental and social responsibilities. The PNA plans could include composting toilets, solar panels for a net-zero energy addition, no PVC, and more.

Facilities Director Bill Fenimore says they used LBC principles to redo the slate roof of the Brick Building in late 2009, reusing 70 percent of the existing slate and reinstalling it with copper nails. Rather than costing more, the LBC tenets ended up saving them money. “It was a very satisfying experience,” Fenimore said.

(Disclosure: We personally (not as PhinneyWood) have donated to the Capital Campaign, and are members of the PNA.)

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