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A fight to save a corporate campus intimately linked to nature

Protests often erupt over proposals to demolish or even modify historic buildings. Threats to landscaping generally receive much less attention.

But that changes in a Seattle suburb, where a developer plans to build on the corporate campus that George H. Weyerhaeuser set up for the family-owned forest and wood products business from the late 1960s.

The site, which the City of Federal Way annexed in 1994, has been praised over the years for its pioneering blend of building and landscape. Today he is caught up in a controversy over plans to build huge warehouses which opponents say would upset the balance with nature, but which the new owner of the property deems necessary to pay for the restoration of the building. headquarters and grounds maintenance.

In the decades following World War II, companies moved from crowded cities to erect jewelry box buildings on pristine strips of lawns all over the suburbs. But Mr. Weyerhaeuser, president and CEO of his company, wanted his headquarters to blend in with nature rather than stand out.

The campus, designed by architect Edward Charles Bassett and landscape architect Peter Walker, featured a low-rise building in a meadow among wooded hills. Ivy-covered terraces at the front of the building cascaded down to a lake, and walking trails meandered through the trees. Members of the public were allowed access to the campus, which has become a popular spot for kite flying, dog walking and bird watching.

It is a time of change at the headquarters of post-war suburbs like the Weyerhaeuser campus. Before the pandemic, many properties were already sold and in some cases reinvented for new uses, often because the original owners took shares and moved back to cities – places considered more attractive to young people. talented workers they hoped to attract. The cost of maintaining large campuses was another factor. Yet the vast majority of office space in the United States remains in the suburbs.

The pandemic has not hit the office market in the suburbs as hard as it has in urban areas, said Ian Anderson, senior director of research and analysis at CBRE, a real estate services company. But the success of remote working has challenged the need for large central offices where employees meet every day.

Amidst the upheaval, conservationists, historians and others are sounding the alarm bells about threats to historic corporate campuses. And the cases raise questions about how to sensitively manage change at these sites and who is responsible for their preservation.

Elsewhere, sites languished when the companies that created them went out of business or merged with others.

Bell Labs – a 1962 research facility also designed by Saarinen on an oval campus in Holmdel, New Jersey – has been closed and headed for demolition. But former employees and others came together to save the two million square foot building. Now it’s a mixed-use project that functions like the city center.

But the conversion of Bell Labs, overseen by Somerset Development, involved the sacrifice of more than 200 acres of the campus. Somerset sold the land to home builder Toll Brothers, who erected townhouses and villas.

“For preservation, we gravitate towards buildings,” said Liz Waytkus, executive director of Docomomo US, which focuses on modern design. “The landscapes are more difficult to defend, even if the public is more connected to them.”

It was clear when PepsiCo closed the sculpture garden on its campus in Purchase, New York The garden, which houses works by Alexander Calder and Alberto Giacometti, had drawn more than 100,000 visitors a year, but it was closed in 2012 for a renovation of the buildings in 1967. After the renovation, PepsiCo did not immediately reopen the garden, citing safety concerns, which sparked an uproar. The company eventually let the public come back, but on a limited basis.

The Weyerhaeuser Campus, which opened in 1971, was one of the first large-scale suburban headquarters on the West Coast. Over time, the company added features to the site: a rhododendron garden and bonsai museum at the south end, a technical center at the north.

In 2016, the company moved to Seattle and sold the 425 acres for about $ 70 million to Industrial Realty Group, a Los Angeles-based company specializing in adaptive reuse projects.

Industrial Realty wants to make its investment. He sold land, renamed the Woodbridge Corporate Park campus, and marketed the five-story corporate headquarters building – an early example of an open-plan workplace and therefore equally innovative inside and out – to future office tenants. .

But Industrial Realty quickly sparked opposition with a plan to build a fish processing plant on a wooded plot near the headquarters. Local residents filled with meetings, and ultimately the case fell through.

Industrial Realty, however, obtained approval for a 226,000 square foot warehouse on the site. And now the company is proposing to build another warehouse next door and three more buildings near the technical center – plans that “would turn a historic and iconic property into an industrial area,” said Lori Sechrist, president of the non-profit group. lucrative Save Weyerhaeuser Campus.

The advocacy group has gone to court to try to stop the first development, citing concerns about environmental damage, traffic and damage to the historic site. Financial contributors to Save Weyerhaeuser include Mr. Weyerhaeuser, who is no longer involved in the business.

“Penny-ante proposals,” Mr. Weyerhaeuser, 94, said of the planned buildings.

But Dana A. Ostenson, an executive vice president at Industrial Realty, countered that development plans were responsible. “We are interested in preserving the campus and especially in creating a campus that will allow the support of the headquarters building,” he said. The new buildings, Mr Ostenson added, would have tree buffers.

Industrial Realty’s warehouses, which are said to bring jobs and tax revenue, also have supporters, including the local chamber of commerce.

State and national organizations have joined Save Weyerhaeuser in asking Industrial Realty to minimize its footprint. The Cultural Landscape Foundation, an education and advocacy group, launched a letter-writing campaign that drew passionate appeals. The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation nominated the campus for the National Trust’s annual list of endangered places.

Some of the buildings are proposed for wetlands, which prompted review by the Army Corps of Engineers. And since the campus is eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, preservation officials are participating in the review to help find ways to avoid or minimize “side effects.”

The Puyallup Tribe is also monitoring the process, on whose ancestral lands the campus is located and the reserve is nearby. The Puyallups are concerned about “environmental and cultural impacts on resources,” said Michael Thompson, a spokesperson for the tribe.

Industrial Realty is moving forward and plans to erect the buildings to specification, Ostenson said. The company is in discussions with biotech companies and other leasing companies, but it hasn’t ruled out buildings becoming distribution centers.

Regardless of the end uses, opponents believe the new development would simply take too big a bite out of the historic site.

Mr Walker, the landscape architect, designed other important commissions such as the 9/11 Memorial in New York. Now 88, he is among those who urged Industrial Realty to build as part of a first development master plan created for Weyerhaeuser, calling the campus an ‘endangered species’.

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How to get back to campus safely: test, then start over

The fall semester has been hell for most colleges – canceled classes, dormitory closings, epidemics and deaths. Nobody wants a repeat.

But the failures and rare successes of the semester could help universities prepare for next year. Many schools plan to bring in more students for the spring semester, even as cases of coronavirus in their communities continue to increase.

Part of it is a financial consideration: students paying for room and board are crucial on tight budgets. But it also reflects the confidence of schools that they have learned how to deal with the pandemic.

An image of successful confinement on campus has emerged: maintaining social distance. Contact trace diligently. Trust students more by calibrating restrictions correctlyy.

The most important piece of the puzzle seems to be aggressive testing. Many colleges that operated their own successful screening programs have been successful in reducing cases; those that have not often become hot spots.

New England, home to many American colleges, could have had a disastrous semester. But colleges have prioritized testing, with many joining a partnership with the Broad Institute, and downsized. In Vermont and Massachusetts, university presidents and officials have attributed aggressive testing regimes to low positivity rates on campus.

“There was no way there was a national capacity to handle our test volume,” said Marc Sedam, vice-provost for innovation and new businesses at the University of New Hampshire, who has builds his own laboratory to prepare for the semester.

Sedam visited a local laboratory at the start of the pandemic. “I looked around and thought, ‘Oh no,’ he said. “If we need 25,000 tests a week, then there aren’t three universities left behind. Higher education will overwhelm the state’s testing infrastructure. “

The university’s lab, which he said cost $ 5.2 million to build and operate, performed more than 250,000 tests during the fall semester. Students took self-administered nasal swabs twice a week and then dropped them off at secure sites on campus. The university never shut down teaching in person and cases have remained low.

“I think you’ll see a lot more in the spring doing a version of what we’re doing,” Sedam said.

Syracuse University learned its lesson after Halloween, when the lab it used produced results too slowly and transmission got out of hand, said Mike Haynie, vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and innovation. The university now has its own testing laboratory within the biology department. It plans to double its capacity to around 300,000 tests between January and May.

“We realized we needed to have complete control and autonomy,” Haynie said.

A plug: Amelia is hosting a panel hosted by the University of New Hampshire tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. EST on the tests hosted by the university. Sign up for free here.


The coronavirus pandemic is worsening in many parts of the world, including New York City, but around 190,000 children are returning to school as of today – a reflection of a new public health consensus.

The city is reopening elementary schools and facilities for children with severe disabilities to families who have opted for in-person learning. Depending on capacity, some schools will offer in-person instruction five days a week, while others will offer a combination of in-person and distance schools.

There are currently no plans to open any middle or high school for in-person learning this year. A group of parents protested the decision in front of the town hall this weekend.

Schools across the country have had to make the difficult decision of when to close and what parameters to follow. Some have remained open with local positivity rates in adolescents and others have used low single-digit cutoffs. Of the nation’s 75 largest public school districts, 18 returned to distance learning in the past month, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Despite the reopening of New York City, it is almost certain to close individual classes and schools in the days and weeks to come, based on the same criteria used earlier in the fall. More frequent testing under the new reopening plan, coupled with the resurgence of the virus, could lead to more cases and more closures.

Under current state rules, the city could even be forced to close another system-wide school if its seven-day test positivity rate reaches 9% – a level that is getting closer every day.

Today represents the start of a new complicated phase towards an already chaotic year. But when Adam put his first masked grader on a bus full of plastic dividers this morning, he sighed again in relief.


  • Students and professors spoke out against the University of Florida ‘s plans to do an in-person apprenticeship next semester.

  • Some students say their mental health will be negatively affected if colleges eliminate spring break.

  • Students shame their peers on public Instagram accounts and share test results on anonymous Google Docs.

  • A good read: Casey Roepke, student journalist at Mount Holyoke College, spoke to peers who graduated in early December. “It’s definitely not a decision I would have made if it hadn’t been for a pandemic,” said one student.

  • Three of the largest school districts in the country – Birmingham, Ala.; Tulsa, Okla.; and Wichita, Kan. – closed last week. In Birmingham, the director said the pandemic “was having a drastic impact on our community and our schools”. In Tulsa, two employees of a public school have died after testing positive. And several public schools in Wichita had so many staff members quarantined that they could hardly fill vacancies.

  • Parents speak out against distance learning. “It doesn’t work, and our children are the sacrifices,” said one parent Oregon said. in the Bay area, another parent called distance learning a “cruel joke”.

  • In Tucson, Arizona., cases are increasing but transmission at school remains low.

  • Centerville, Ohio, had to close schools because community transmission rates were so high, even though classrooms were relatively safe. “Most of the exposure came from outside the school,” said the principal. “Quarantines are really difficult to manage.”

  • A student opinion: “I am alone”, Adeline Roza, senior Seattle, wrote in the Seattle Times. “I miss high school, I miss track and field and cross country competitions, and I miss seeing my friends and teachers.”

  • A good read: Many children’s sports have resisted the coronavirus surprisingly well. But not ice hockey. Wet, closed rinks could play a role, as well as heavy breathing after a sprint on the ice.


We’re journalists, so we’re biased, but this seems like a pretty neat quarantine project: get your kids (or students, if you’re a teacher) to publish their own diaries. Let them draw their own comics, interview the adults in their lives, and write an editorial. More ideas here. And please send us your final projects by email when you start the presses!

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