Seattle isn’t going to build a new community center at Green Lake, after all, Parks Department says

Seattle isn’t going to build a shiny new community center and swimming pool at Green Lake, after all, the Parks Department says, though the City Council member for the neighborhood is taking issue with that decision.

The Parks Department says it has scrapped its plan to replace Green Lake Park’s existing center and pool, citing the steep cost of the project — as much as $120 million, according to an estimate in 2020.

Instead, the Parks Department now hopes to spend as much as $50 million renovating the current structures, policy director Michele Finnegan told the Parks Board last month during a meeting about funding needs that could require more property taxes.

“The gymnasium will stay where it is, and the pool will stay where it is,” but the project could yield a “fresh feel” with a lot of improvements, she said.

That wouldn’t be good enough, says Councilmember Dan Strauss, whose District 6 includes the Green Lake neighborhood. The park serves people from across North Seattle and the city at large, Strauss said Tuesday, vowing to “fight for” a new community center, or at least a new wing.

“We’ve already done renovations,” said Strauss, who will get to weigh in when the council considers the next funding cycle for the Seattle Park District, which collects property taxes to help the city’s parks system.

The change in plans at Green Lake is a major pivot for the Parks Department, which started planning a new complex for the popular North Seattle park years ago and which spent $1 million on surveys and design work.

Green Lake’s existing community center was built in 1927 and the center’s Evans Pool addition was built in 1955; a Parks Department study in 2015 determined that the structures needed to be replaced.

The Parks Department made a splash in 2020, when it released its conceptual design for a 90,000-square-foot replacement complex with a new gym, two swimming pools, child care and activity rooms on two levels, a vaulted welcome hall and a lakeside porch, among other amenities.

But the price tag was higher than expected, said David Graves, a strategic advisor with the Parks Department. The estimate for the new Green Lake project was $100 million to $120 million, whereas Rainier Beach’s new community center, completed in 2013, cost $32 million.

“You start looking at the numbers and wow. It was just shocking to everyone,” Graves said.

The decision to pursue renovations instead grew from discussions last year in the Parks Department, in conjunction with the mayor’s office, he said. The Seattle Park District is supposed to fund projects and services across the city, in an equitable way.

“We have so many needs in our system that it’s hard to justify spending so much all in one place,” Graves said.

Michael Cuadra, president of the Green Lake Community Center Advisory Council, didn’t know about the change until The Seattle Times called him Tuesday, he said.

“That’s news to me,” Cuadra said, expressing disappointment.

He thought the Parks Department was still considering the possibility of building a new community center and pool with fewer bells and whistles for about $60 million, he said. The last time the advisory council was in contact with the Parks Department, “We were still talking about that,” Cuadra said.

Strauss said he wants to continue exploring the city’s options.

The Parks Department has yet to develop a detailed plan for the renovations, which could include a new floor in the gym and a new pool deck, plus accessibility and lighting improvements, Graves said. Feedback from the recent Green Lake surveys can be incorporated, he said.

The challenge is to make upgrades without triggering extra energy and earthquake code requirements, Graves said. The city already has fixed the center’s leaky roof, installed new boilers and made some other repairs in recent years.

The Parks Board indicated support last month for the new Green Lake plan, which is part of the Parks Department’s proposal for Seattle Park District funding from 2023 to 2028.

The proposal recommended by the Parks Board would boost the district’s tax collections by tens of millions of dollars annually to pay for various additional projects and services. The proposal, which is a work in progress, needs approval from the council, Strauss noted.

This coverage is partially underwritten by Microsoft Philanthropies. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over this and all its coverage.

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