A Vision for the Seminary Building

Eddie RaccoonWe, Citizens for Saint Edward State Park, and the broader community OPPOSE a commercial takeover of the core of the park, or any plan for the central plateau that will detract from the park experience. Saint Edward State Park is a star in Washington State Park’s inventory, always among the top three most visited and enjoyed of our parks. Many park visitors enjoy the wild areas of the park, the big trees, the rough trails where people can meander and feel they are in the mountains. Those with accessibility issues or small children who cannot walk the wooded trails, enjoy the trails and picnic areas of the Great Lawn and grounds surrounding the building, the core of the park. In good weather, the park is full of families picnicking in this area, playing Frisbee and children on the community provided playground. The beauty of this park provides respite from our urban environment through a feeling of quiet and an opportunity to be in a natural environment.

It is not enough to continue to oppose the increasingly bad ideas for the park, from creating a hotel and bar that rents the land for 70 years, to a hotel and bar that outright owns the land in perpetuity — plus the eight surrounding acres. According to the Kenmore Reporter, those eight acres will serve as a buffer to keep the public away from the paying guests: a reversal of roles from the park visitors’ enjoyment to the hotel guests’ enjoyment. The proposed hotel is also a reversal of the purpose of the 1977 purchase of St. Edward Seminary land for a state park: to preserve this site for passive and active outdoor recreation. The eight acres will serve to develop hundreds of parking slots for hotel patrons.

What can be done to sustain the park experience, and yet honor the heritage of this park on the National Register of Historic Places? As pointed out in communications to the Parks Commission, seven elements of the park are on the National Register of Historic Places: the grotto, the Great Lawn, the Gymnasium, the trails, including the perimeter trail, the ball field, the Nun’s garden, and the Seminary Building. To keep this land in the public domain, the responsibility for the core of the park must be a public responsibility.

Thus, leaders of the regional community are meeting with area legislators to form a plan for the park that will increase the park visitors’ enjoyment, rather than diminish it. Foremost in these discussions is how to decrease the backlog of maintenance expenses that has become a burden to Washington State Parks. Astoundingly, just minimal heating of a 90,000 square foot building using the existing heating system amounts to over $100,000 per year. Your input is invited and valued. You can start by signing the latest petition.*

Citizens for Saint Edward State Park members accomplished the nomination for the historical designation. They took the photographs, filled in the forms, and wrote the narration that nominated the seven historic elements to the National Register of Historic Places. Each is enjoyed by multi-generations of the public, for family gatherings, hiking, bicycling, and all together are greater than any one element in contributing to the park visitors’ enjoyment.

So, we have been thinking for a long time, how to increase access to the main building without destroying the tranquility the large building offers to the setting, a reassuring relic anchoring the more natural beauty of the Park. However, this relic is largely unusable without prohibitive costs to the public one way or another: either an astounding amount of tax dollars or loss of the surrounding grounds to a commercial entity.

We have explored potential avenues for ten years now, as have those before us. We sought partnering with the Burke Museum, which did not work out. We explored the building’s use as a repository for state artifacts not yet curated, which would be low impact on the Park experience, a giant artifact, protecting state artifacts. Such a redevelopment would incur the expense of retrofitting, to stop water intrusion from above, stable heating, and earthquake stabilization. It could be done if the State had a priority interest in protecting the building and the necessary funds.

Ironically, it was while on vacations that several of us through our travels developed an “aha” moment: The beautiful walls of the building could yet grace the grounds without full use of the building or even a renovation. A State grant enabled protection from water intrusion from below (much of Saint Edward State Park is an upland wetland, which creates havoc with the swimming pool and, in the past, with the main building). That leaves the walls intact. The roof is failing, so get rid of it and reinforce the walls. Invite park visitors inside with small buildings within the walls, with modern, environmentally friendly and efficient heating and cooling. Create the feeling of an honored castle sheltering human scale activity.

Opening the walls to the sky is called daylighting, and made the Sugar Cane Factory Museum in Taiwan a favorite for respite. Saving the walls is also being done in Bothell with the granary on Main Street. Adding buildings to serve community needs, on a small scale within the walls, would invite the public in to view the history and enjoy the setting, not obliterate public access. We are now exploring whether the grand dining hall, kitchen and perhaps the promenade could be practically and attractively saved or whether the interior should be re-invented to better serve the public, for weddings, environmental research, community.

*This is an updated petition. We feel this latest petition reflects the best vision for the park. If you signed the previous petition we thank you, and encourage you to add your name to the newest one as well.

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