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More Hall. Photo via Jennifer Mortensen/ SaveTheReactor.org.
More Hall Annex. Photo via Jennifer Mortensen/SaveTheReactor.org.

A King County Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that the University of Washington is exempt from a City of Seattle law that preserves landmarks, paving the way for the UW’s computer science program expansion.

UWLast year, a local preservation group tried to nominate the 55-year-old More Hall Annex, which previously housed a nuclear reactor, as a landmark under the city’s ordinance.

The UW, which wanted to replace More Hall Annex with a second computer science building, then sued the city and group. On Thursday, Judge Suzanne Parisien ruled that the ordinance does not apply to the UW, adding that “public purpose requires that the campus continue to be developed to meet the growing and changing education needs of the State,” The Seattle Times reported.

This allows the UW to tear down More Hall Annex — which is on national and state registers of historic places, Crosscut noted — and build the new computer science building adjacent to the existing Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering, which opened a decade ago but is currently operating at full capacity.

An early conceptual drawing of the new CSE building interior by LMN Architects. The final building design will incorporate an undergraduate commons (pictured) and instructional labs, seminar rooms, research labs, and collaborative spaces for students and faculty.
An early conceptual drawing of the new CSE building interior by LMN Architects. The final building design will incorporate an undergraduate commons (pictured) and instructional labs, seminar rooms, research labs, and collaborative spaces for students and faculty.

Ed Lazowska, the computer science department’s Bill & Melinda Gates Chair, told GeekWire that having the second building across the street from the existing space is “essential.”

Ed Lazowska.
Ed Lazowska.

“The [new building] won’t merely duplicate spaces we already have — it will provide spaces that we currently lack and that all of us will use, such as a large lecture theater, several large classrooms, many dedicated undergraduate labs and project spaces, and a large robotics lab,” Lazowska said. “So the space currently occupied by More Hall Annex is the only practical site.”

Added Lazowska: “The [new building] is essential if we’re to continue to grow, allowing us to prepare more of Washington’s kids for Washington’s top tech jobs.”

The new 130,000 square-foot building, which will help the UW keep up with growing demand for computer science degrees, is expected to cost roughly $110 million and will be paid for with both public and private money. This past June, Microsoft gave the UW $10 million for the new building.

In the decade since the current UW CSE building opened, the demand for computer science graduates has skyrocketed in the Seattle region, thanks to a strong startup ecosystem, Amazon’s rapid growth, and the opening of Seattle-area engineering offices by Google, Facebook, and many other tech companies based outside the region.

“UW CSE desperately needs to expand,” Lazowska said in June. “Student demand and employer demand both are extraordinary. Kids who grow up in the state of Washington deserve the opportunity to be educated for jobs at the forefront of our region’s innovation economy. That’s what we do in UW CSE.”

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