The PacMed building, known by its official name as the Seattle Pacific Tower, is an iconic building famous for its remarkable medical history. Crowning Beacon Hill and overlooking Elliott Bay, this landmark was originally built as a U. S. Marine Hospital in the 1932, but more importantly, it witnessed Dr. E. Donnall Thomas’ revolutionary research, which would later come to fruition in the form of the world’s first bone-marrow transplant. The Pacific Hospital Preservation & Development Authority took over in 1981 as its owner, and, after housing Amazon.com from 1998 to 2011, it has remained an empty landmark. Meanwhile, Tom Byers, a community activist, had a vision that would allow the PacMed building to continue its original purpose; he wanted to turn the building into a center for training health care community college students and accommodating non-profit social services organizations. Byers found the ideal advocate for his vision in Frank Chopp, a Washington Speaker of the House, whose role greatly contributed to our college landing the deal. Under the proposal, six out of thirteen floors will be devoted to the expansion of Seattle Central Community College’s Allied Health programs. Chopp also managed to allot $20 million from the state capital budget to fund the building’s renovation and an additional $4.8 million to cover the first two years’ lease. Since SCCC is a subtenant, the state will cover maintenance costs.
Such a seemingly fruitful plan, however, is not without its objectors. Rodney Tom, Senate Majority Leader, thinks that being a landlord is not a good idea for the state. He believes that, although it is a great move for social services in Seattle, it is a bad financial decision. This plan also has potency of violating the “end-run policy.” The State Board for Community and Technical Colleges created this policy to prevent colleges from sidestepping the standard boundaries in procuring fund for capital projects. A college which breaches this policy may forfeit its position.
The 90-day due diligence review has ended, and the Pacific Hospital Preservation and Development Authority have agreed to sign a lease with the state Department of Commerce. The lease will be longer than usual, lasting for 30 years, and it will effectively begin on January 1, 2014. However, the move itself is not expected to take place until the fall of 2015, and the Seattle Community Colleges Board of Trustees will decide its authorization in a formal vote this December. Meanwhile, other health care and social service organizations can move in next year; they are the non-profit organizations who will fill the other seven floors. There is a contingency plan to sublease the space to state agencies, according to the department’s deputy of director, Dan McConnon, but it is not the preferred option.
If the Board of Trustees authorizes this plan, it will be extremely beneficial to many parties, especially students from SCCC’s Allied Health programs. As David Sandler, SCCC’s Director of Communications and Marketing, notes, they will have better facilities and ready access to internship sites at health care providers on First Hill. This expansion will also allow SCCC to serve more students, resulting in an increasing number of locally-trained healthcare workers. This, as Chopp observed, will be a complementary move to the Affordable Care Act because more people will have access to insurance. Moreover, the vacated space will facilitate the two four-year programs which SCCC is trying to gain approval of: Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Bachelor of Applied Science in Allied Health. These programs will benefit not only traditional college-age students but also people currently working in the healthcare field who seek to complete their education.