Seattle Art Museum director Kim Rorschach addresses a full crowd at a museum update on Dec. 10.
Seattle Art Museum director Kim Rorschach addresses a full crowd at a museum update on Dec. 10.

The Seattle Art Museum has made several revisions to its designs for a renovation and expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum based on public feedback over the past several months, but a number of residents at a Saturday open house maintained the opinion they don’t want to lose one inch of Volunteer Park land to the project.

The Alvord Board Room of the Seattle Asian Art Museum was packed for the sixth in a series of update meetings regarding the project, with nearly every attendee weighing in with a comment.

SAM director Kim Rorschach again addressed the nonprofit’s position as to why the renovation is needed and how the expansion will increase the capacity for the programs offered.

Constructed in 1933, the Seattle Asian Art Museum still uses the original furnace. While heat is provided to the building, the museum does not have air conditioning or a climate control system, which limits the amount of collections being made available for display.

Rorschach said the museum also needs a critical seismic upgrade. A number of the walls consist of hollowed clay.

“I had no idea you could actually stick your finger right through the wall,” said Doug Bayley, former Volunteer Park Trust president, when voicing his support for the project.

SAM and its design and construction team addressed potential confusion about the 13,650-square-foot expansion, which Rorschach said was exacerbated by a fake Seattle Parks and Recreation flyer that had been circulated.

A big point of clarification during Saturday’s meeting was how much the expansion will affect Volunteer Park. While the total expansion is more than 13,000 square feet, much of that square footage will be spread across three stories of a new addition to the southeast side of the museum, Rorschach said, adding the building’s footprint will only increase by 3,600 square feet – about the size of the full meeting room on Saturday.

That addition will include offices, a new meeting space and a 1,220-square-foot education and art-making space. SAM provided 251 programs at the museum last year, serving 17,000 people.

“We’re really at the limit of what we can provide with the spaces that we have,” Rorschach said.

There will also be a 2,717-square-foot gallery space on the third level of the addition for southeast Asian art, which SAM wants to focus on more, in line with changing demographics in Seattle and the surrounding region.

The original design for the addition included an articulated exterior staircase with large windows, which was removed after feedback from the public that people might confuse it as a museum entrance.

Museum visitors will have access to a 1,200-square-foot park lobby from the third-floor garden court, the lobby providing views of the park and access to an exit stair that will connect the three levels of the addition. 

In response to previous public comments that the addition’s modern look clashes with the historic structure — which has had several additions since 1947 — Miller said the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties requires a distinction between a historic structure and additions.

“We think it’s appropriate for a new project to represent the world of today,” he said.

Responding to Seattle Parks and Recreation and the National Park Service, original plans for concrete seating elements were removed on the east side of the building where the addition will be constructed, said Chris Jones, principal with landscape architecture firm Walker Macy. Most recently plans for additional plantings around the addition were yanked, keeping the park layout as simple and close to the original Olmsted Brothers’ plans as possible.

Jones said SAM is also in discussions with SPR on how it can improve existing pathways in Volunteer Park.

Jeremy Jones, project superintendent for BNBuilders, said additional road access will be put in place during construction, while respecting tree protection plans. On top of an arborist attached to the project through SAM, he said BNBuilders will have its own arborist on site. Colleague Brian Dague said crews will likely park offsite and be bused in.

Bayley said he supports the loss of park space — a quarter of 1 percent — because of what will be gained through the museum’s expansion.

“I do not think we should give up park land, in any sense, lightly,” he said.

Resident Susan Glenn said she always felt that side of the park was “butt ugly,” and she’s looking forward to seeing improvements.

“The museum is a jewel and the park is a jewel. I feel like I use every part of the park,” Glenn said. “I think what we’re gaining with the little bit of the park that we’re losing is well worth it.”

Those who spoke in opposition of the expansion felt it didn’t fit in with the nature of Volunteer Park, some saying they felt the museum be moved.

“I think we should take a hard look at what we call basic needs,” said John Barber, suggesting educational programs be conducted at other SAM sites.

Laura Peterson said she sees the museum as a cultural gathering place, and the expansion will enhance the facility’s ability to share the richness and diversity of Asian cultures.

“Things like this could not be more desperately needed,” she said.

Eliza Davidson, who is chair for the Volunteer Park Trust committee working to replace the outdated park amphitheater, has been staunchly opposed to the expansion from the beginning.

“It seems to be posed as a ‘no big deal’ to take away park land,” she said during Saturday’s public comment period. “Park land is precious, it’s irreplaceable.”

Sam Miller with LMN Architects said 80 percent of the project is renovating the existing building.

The first floor of the museum will include two additional mechanical rooms at 1,560 and 1,990 square feet, for an emergency generator, new transformer and added humidity and AC control.

“This equipment is big,” Miller said. “It needs to do what it needs to do.”

Major improvements will be made to the loading dock on the north end of the museum, which Miller said is inaccessible for most trucks. A 98-square-foot freight elevator will be added for moving collections, which is not very manageable with the passenger elevator that exists now.

There will also be a 988-square-foot conservation lab added into the second floor of the museum, with viewing windows for visitors to watch technicians at work.

SAM has filed for a master use permit, and the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections will hold a public meeting to review the application 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15, at the Miller Community Center, 330 19th Ave. E. 


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