A legal fight between the City of Seattle and the University of Washington has ended in a victory for the city. The state Supreme Court said university buildings can be designated as city landmarks.
Preservation groups had long been trying to protect a building on the university's Seattle campus that once housed a nuclear reactor. It was an unusual building that used glass to reveal the reactor instead of shielding it behind concrete. The reactor was shut down in the 1980s, and the building sat vacant.
The university wanted to tear it down, but groups such as Historic Seattle nominated the building as a potential landmark under a city ordinance. That prompted the university to sue, saying its campus wasn’t subject to the ordinance.
“The court agreed with us that the law of Washington is that although state universities are able to exercise full control of their property, they’re not an island unto themselves,” said Roger Wynne, an assistant city attorney for Seattle. “They have to comply with other law.”
In a statement, UW spokesman Victor Balta said the university looks forward to continuing to work with the city “for the good of the physical campus legacy that we pass on to future generations.”
“The university and city agreed at the start of this process that we needed clarity; that agreeing to disagree had become too cumbersome,” Balta said in the statement. “The court’s decision provides additional clarity.”
As for the nuclear reactor building, the court’s decision comes too late – the university tore it down last year to make way for a new computer science and engineering center.
Chris Moore, executive director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, said he regrets that the building is gone.
“Getting the answer from the supreme court was nonetheless very, very important because, of course, as the university continues to grow and expand and develop, there are going to be other issues that come up around historic structures on the campus and how they’re treated,” Moore said.