Half a year post-fire, Highland Park Improvement Club gets closer to rebuilding plan

December 18, 2021 8:04 pm
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 |   Highland Park | West Seattle news

(Photo from HPIC town-hall presentation, building’s south side along SW Holden)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

How much? How soon? How big?

The answers to those questions will help shape the rebuilding plan for fire-damaged Highland Park Improvement Club, as discussed at HPIC’s second post-fire “town hall” online this past Wednesday.

They’re all intertwined – the size of the rebuilding project will determine how much it’ll cost and how soon the building – closed half a year already – will be able to reopen.

Award-winning Wittman Estes – led by a Highland Park couple – is on board as the architecture firm that will design the remodeled/repaired HPIC, both the building and grounds. Their presentation started Wednesday night’s discussion, with more than 30 people in attendance. (You can watch a recording of the meeting here.)

Matt Wittman said he and Jody Estes are hoping to “build something even better than what was there before.” Right now, as he showed on an early timeline, they’re in the “pre-design process,” most of which is about community feedback. “Now’s the time to think big … anything’s possible” within the scope of what’s allowable on the site. He began with a discussion of the site – where the surroundings have changed a lot sine it was built a century ago. They’re hopeful the rebuild can embrace the courtyard more than the building does now. The building’s corners might be more open, for example, so that the building had more of a relationship with SW Holden – some tentative ideas were shown.

For context, he also showed the plans from the building addition on the west side in the 1980s – that part is more salvageable than the original part of the building, which is likely to be “scraped” as part of the rebuild, as shown here:

The questions to be answered include:

To get to those answers, a community questionnaire (open for another three weeks) is asking these questions:

That segued into discussion, facilitated by HPIC’s Kay Kirkpatrick. The first commenter observed that as much as the “anything’s possible” attitude is important, keeping budget in mind is too, as costs can stack up fast. Wittman said they’d bring some rough numbers next time. The second commenter observed that cost considerations go beyond construction – also, they must be mindful of what staffing/maintenance will cost for whatever they build (as another person put it, “what’s it going to cost to run the club?”).

“We’re going to have to raise a lot of money, no matter what we do,” was another observation.

Specific suggestions included a stage – which could bolster rentals, a significant income stream for HPIC – and classrooms. Also: Building on the food-security work to which HPIC pivoted early in the pandemic, with a loading zone, and perhaps a commercial kitchen. Perhaps a state-of-the-art streaming facility for events: “Making it more meaningful to a larger group of people might make it easier to raise a larger amount of money.”

Could the project be built in phases, raising enough to cover the first phase, then adding on as future fundraising allowed? was a question. Connecting the indoors and outdoors will be imperative, another attendee observed, “something that will make the building more flexible” – the courtyard is much used/loved but is simply adjacent to the building, not connected to it.

A metal building might cost less, was another suggestion. Wittman said the project team can evaluate potential materials along with costs. He added that other materials might be conducive to fast construction, too, such as mass timber. Energy efficiency was discussed as well, and “future-forward” ways of addressing interior air quality.

The building has a crawl space with standing room in spots – could it be fully dug as a basement level? was another question. Plus: Even if the entire building were demolished, would the new one stay within the current footprint? Likely yes, said Wittman – as a “substantial alteration,” some project components would be grandfathered, but a total rebuild would have to meet some new parameters. That too is information that can be reviewed at the next meeting.

Though the ’80s addition is in good-enough condition to be kept, it doesn’t have architectural/historic appeal to which people are attached. Perhaps, then, it was suggested, the part of the building that’s adjacent to the courtyard could be smaller.

Then the discussion was brought back to what the building should be for, not just how it should look. What activities should continue? What should be added? What would draw you to HPIC in the future? What ideas had been surfaced in the past but couldn’t become reality because of space or other aspects of the “old” building? (In the “what could be better” department, “easier storage” was suggested.)

Dream, but be realistic, was advice from one attendee who’s also a general contractor. Getting the building back into service sooner rather than later would be a practical goal. Adding too much, changing the footprint, would bring “a whole bunch of other issues” into the project. “The longer we wait, the more time we lose … bring(ing) joy back to the neighborhood,” as another person warned. “Every time I drive by, it’s a dead building with a fence around it,” so that needs to be remedied as soon as feasible.

The “how much” question then resurfaced: How much money do they think they can, or would need to, raise? A million? More? (The insurance company is willing to pay up to $750,000 for an “in-kind replacement,” it was noted.) The vision needs to precede the request: “You have to get people to fall in love with it.” Telling the story of everything that happens and can happen at HPIC will be “really powerful.” Can they do any fundraising at the site right now? No, was the answer, as they’re not insured for it – that was a recent revelation, no events allowed at the site after all, because of safety/insurance concerns. (Side note – that means there won’t be a “Camp HPIC” New Year’s Eve event at the site after all, but they’re likely bringing back the Not-So-Silent-Night neighborhood parade.) HPIC has been resilient, and they’ll figure something out, trustees vowed: “We’ll find a way,” declared HPIC president Nicole Mazza.

WHAT’S NEXT: They’re hoping from here to meet monthly, to keep the planning in high gear; January 19th is the date set for the next onE. (Watch hpic1919.org for participation details.) And whether or not you attended this meeting, HPIC hopes you’ll answer the questionnaire.

P.S. You can help even more by becoming an HPIC member; while they’re open to wide community input now, members are who will have the final vote on what HPIC does – here’s how to join.

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