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Originally published Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 4:49 PM

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Revised Highway 99 plan spares Western Building

The Washington State Department of Transportation has proposed spending up to $20 million to save the century-old Western Building from demolition during construction of the Highway 99 tunnel.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

The Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT) has proposed spending up to $20 million to save the century-old Western Building from demolition during construction of the Highway 99 tunnel.

The converted warehouse is a work space for about 100 artists, and it is visited by hundreds of people during "First Thursday" art tours in Seattle's Pioneer Square district, including this week.

Last year, state engineers and private-industry construction executives said they would demolish the building, which would not survive the vibrations that a giant tunneling machine would cause below. The DOT estimated it would cost $29 million to $35 million to upgrade the warehouse to modern codes.

But many people and groups, including historic-preservation agencies, spoke in favor of preserving the Western, causing DOT program administrator Ron Paananen to take another look.

So instead of razing it, the tunnel team would add pilings to fortify the foundations, add temporary cables, inject grout into the soil and build a steel frame around the perimeter, to gird it against vibration damage. Much of the building has bowed or sunk over decades, while cracks up to 8 inches appear in some beams.

Artists still would be evicted next year. Later, the Western could be reused as art studios, or by some other tenants, after the 12 months of construction below. It would not survive a major earthquake without a large additional investment, said Rick Conte, senior engineer with consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff.

If highway officials continued to demand its demolition, approval for the tunnel's environmental-impact statement — due in August for a late-summer groundbreaking — might be delayed, he said. The DOT is required to minimize or compensate for damage to historical resources, among other impacts.

"There was a potential we could be delayed, and schedule was very important at this point," Paananen said. "There was definitely a cost risk side to us." He said the agency is "trying to do the right thing. Clearly, people thought there was a better path."

The $15 million to $20 million cost would come out of the right-of-way section of the $3.1 billion budget for an Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement corridor from Sodo to South Lake Union.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631

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