Brown sighs as he tries to describe working in the building. "We've had cases where the roof has leaked or plumbing breaks, with water cascading into offices. I've personally had my own book collection suffer water damage," he says.
He takes you to his research lab to prove his point. "The water pressure is not adequate for my experiments, so I've had to use a garden hose for 10 years," he says, pointing to a green hose that belongs on a Home Depot shelf, not in a geology lab. "We've had to block the building ventilation system with some cardboard and duct tape. Look up and you can see the stained tiles from the water damage."
Paint peels and flakes off the ornate panels of Savery Hall on the UW's famous "Quad". Photo by Kathy Sauber.
The Department of Earth and Space Sciences was born from a merger of geological sciences and geophysics. It pulls in almost $7 million in research grants every year. But it cannot house all of its faculty in Johnson Hall. When the department tries to hire new faculty, the chair often hears candidates say the building is "a turn-off." "We are the poster child of decrepitude," Brown declares.
The UW has committed about $1.4 million to do planning and design work for the remodeling of Johnson Hall. It will cost more than $50 million to renovate the building; the project is the University's highest priority in its state capital budget request. But it is not clear if anyone in Olympia can come up with the money.
Other signs of decrepitude are not far away. The second-oldest building on campus-Clark Hall-has exterior leaks that are causing its brick and mortar walls to crumble away. Gerberding Hall just suffered from $200,000 in water damage from a burst pipe that flooded the office of the regents. Concrete pillars were crumbling so badly on the south side of Sieg Hall that the UW covered them with cosmetic panels. The wiring in Denny Hall (built in 1895) is so bad that the power goes out occasionally in its basement computer lab.
A Savery Hall gargoyle celebrating the crew program at the UW is covered with slimy green algae. Photo by Kathy Sauber.
The director of capital projects at the UW, Marilyn Cox, knows she has a problem convincing others that the campus is in danger. "The problem is that we look really good from the outside. You don't get the impression that we are falling apart," she sighs.
"What the beautiful architecture doesn't tell you is that there is a furnace inside with a 30-year life span that is 50 years old."
In addition, there isn't much excitement in renewing an older building. "There is a tendency in Olympia for lawmakers to fund new buildings. Renewal is not as glamorous," she says.
In the same respect, she adds, private donors are not interested in funding most renovations. "They are reluctant to fund that type of project. They feel it relieves the state of its responsibility to maintain its property," she explains.
A cross section of a corroded pipe taken from Johnson Hall. Photo by Kathy Sauber.
What most lawmakers, donors and citizens don't realize is that the UW is the state's single most valuable piece of property. With some 300 buildings on the Seattle campus alone, it constitutes 23 percent of all state facilities, based on square feet. Some of these building were not constructed with state funds (such as the medical center, the HUB or Husky Stadium), but even factoring them out, the UW still comprises 15 percent of all state-owned buildings.
Yet the UW gets a very small portion from state revenues to maintain these buildings, something that Interim President Lee Huntsman and the Board of Regents insist must change. "We need a proportional share of the capital budget based on the amount of state facilities we represent," explains Cox.