[Follow-up: No more stealing computer time: Bill Gates marks key milestone for UW computer science expansion]
The University of Washington’s new computer science building is now fully funded thanks to a $15 million gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The UW announced Wednesday that fundraising for the new building, which will help double the size of its nationally-recognized computer science program, is now closed after a mix of public and private funding helped make it all happen. Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Zillow also contributed to the construction costs, in addition to funds from the university and state.
The 135,000 square-foot building, which will open in January 2019, is named the “Bill & Melinda Gates Center for Computer Science & Engineering.” The naming decision was made earlier this year, when Microsoft and longtime friends of the Gates couple announced a $30 million donation.
The Gates Foundation wasn’t actually aware of the naming decision when it told the UW previously that it would contribute $15 million to the new building to finish the fundraising effort. Ed Lazowska, professor of computer science at the UW, explained that the computer science school wanted to celebrate the naming of the building separately from the Gates Foundation donation, which is why the building’s name was announced in October, and the additional Gates Foundation donation was made public today in conjunction with the fundraising milestone.
“The community has come together in amazing ways to make this possible,” Lazowska told GeekWire. “Microsoft President Brad Smith, who led our campaign committee; more than 300 donors; the ‘Friends of Bill and Melinda,’ who named the building; and Bill and Melinda themselves, who offered to complete the fundraising without being aware that the building was being named in their honor.”
Bill and Melinda Gates will join hundreds of donors, friends, and others at the UW on Wednesday afternoon for a “topping out” ceremony that celebrates the placement of the final steel beam at the top of the building. GeekWire will be covering the event, so stay tuned for coverage. UW President Ana Mari Cauce and Microsoft President Brad Smith will also speak, in addition to Bill and Melinda Gates. Donors will have a chance to sign the beam on Wednesday, though the first signature came earlier this week from Bill Gates’ father, William H. Gates Sr.
The new building will sit directly across the street from the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering, which opened in 2003 thanks in part to a $14 million donation from Allen himself, who co-founded Microsoft with Gates in 1975. It has since housed the UW’s computer science school, which was renamed the “Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering” earlier this year after Allen donated another $40 million to the UW.
In a statement, Melinda Gates said she is “especially excited about the opportunities that this building will create for women in computer science.”
“That’s an area where the Paul G. Allen School has excelled, and an area where I hope this new building will enable women to do even more,” she said. “This is a special honor, because the University of Washington is a special place to me.”
“Melinda and I are thrilled to be able to support this world-class institution in various ways,” Bill Gates said in a statement. “Thank you to everyone who made this building possible. I’m excited about what it will mean for the university and our entire community.”
This is the latest gift to the UW from the Gates family. Bill Gates’ father and his late mother, Mary Gates, have a long history of giving to the UW. The UW School of Law is named after William H. Gates, while Mary Gates Hall houses undergraduate academic affairs.
Bill & Melinda Gates have also contributed to the university in a variety of ways, helping fund everything from new buildings to scholarships for students. Earlier this year, the Gates Foundation announced a $279 million research grant to the UW, which marked the largest private donation in the university’s history.
More than half — $70 million — of the funding for the new computer science building came from private donors. The state provided $32.5 million and the UW put $9 million toward the building.
Smith, the Microsoft president who was instrumental in fundraising efforts for the expansion, said that the building is “vital to Washington.”
“More than 300 donors contributed to the project because they believe in the importance of preparing students for not just today’s world, but tomorrow’s,” he said in a statement. “Bill and Melinda Gates’ generous gift concludes the fundraising effort for a facility that will benefit the Allen School, the UW, the Puget Sound region and the world.”
The new building will include 16 labs, a lecture hall, two 100-person classrooms, a 250-person auditorium, three seminar rooms, an event space, communal and study spaces, office and support spaces. You can track the construction at this live camera feed.
Fundraising is still ongoing to help support the growth of the computer science department.
“A key thing we need from the state — having funded this project largely privately — is funding to further expand our enrollment,” Lazowska noted.
In 2016, CSE became the leading “first-choice” major among confirmed incoming UW freshmen, surpassing the longtime leading preferred major, Business Administration. UW says it currently has to turn away two out of every three qualified student applicants in the CSE department. Last year, 391 students graduated from the department and 5,000 students took CSE introductory courses.
In the decade since Allen helped open the current UW CSE building, 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. More than two-thirds of UW CSE graduates remain in-state after completing their degree.