Environmental education and research could be a part of the St. Edward State Park Seminary redevelopment after the Legislature approved $750,000 for renovations to one of its buildings this year.
The lease between Washington State Parks and Daniels Real Estate, which is redeveloping the seminary building, includes up to 2,000 square feet of space set aside for public use, likely as an education and research center. Susan Carlson is the environmental lead for E3, an environmental organization that is pushing for the creation of the center.
“We are by and large, focused on a science and STEM-centered curriculum and pathways,” she said.
The center ideally would be run as a partnership between the University of Washington Bothell campus and the state. The university would use the facility for undergrad field research as well as staffing students for educational programs. It could also serve PreK-12 education as well as support existing educational programs like Camp ROOTS and Wilderness Awareness School, which currently operate at the park.
Originally the center was cited inside the historic seminary building, which is being redeveloped into a lodge and spa, but the developer decided to use the space, Carlson said. Instead, the center was moved to an annex for the seminary’s old gym building.
The annex currently houses locker and utility rooms but the $750,000 state grant, secured by state Sen. David Frockt and Rep. Gerry Pollett, would allow it to be renovated. If a partnership between UW Bothell and the state is approved, these renovations could begin as early as this fall. Carlson said despite not being placed in the main building, the annex might now provide greater benefits.
“Which is in the end a far more optimal arrangement in that we have an independent building,” she said.
David Stokes is a UW Bothell environmental and biology studies professor who is leading the push for a university-led model for the center. He envisions it will create partnerships across age groups, such as undergrad mentoring of high school students or citizen science projects.
The park itself is already the subject of studies and presents a rich native environment for students and researchers.
“This is just an incredible opportunity. First of all, the site of St. Edward Park is really unique in the Seattle-metropolitan area. As a native forest within an urban area, it’s got the best representation really of native forest of any size,” Stokes said. “Really it’s a jewel in the Seattle area, and it’s also only six miles from our campus so it would be a spectacular place for students to be able to do research, take classes.”
Citizen science projects could include wildlife observation and research, mapping and managing invasive species and monitoring water quality at the park. Researchers at the university and other colleges in the area are interested in hosting courses at the facility, ranging from wildlife and restoration ecology to botany and hydrology due to the dense forests, wetlands and streams at the park. This is on top of the abundant animal life.
“We just have very diverse wildlife species in the park,” Stokes said. “Birds, mammals and amphibians.”
Programs would be expanded to public schools, youth clubs and adults. UW Bothell is working on a report now that will be submitted to the state by the end of June for consideration. If it is approved, low-intensity programs like guided tours could begin with renovations.
“This will be an amazing opportunity for the community to have a resource like this with the involvement of big state agency like State Parks and the university. That combination and collaboration is going to produce some really great programs and opportunities for everyone, whether they’re in PreK or retirement,” Stokes said.
The education and research center could come online around the same time as the main St. Edward Seminary redevelopment in 2020. The $50 million project was undertaken by Daniels Real Estate after years of planning and community engagement. The refurbished seminary will be a lodge, restaurant and spa and the state agreed to give Daniels Real Estate a 62-year lease on the building in 2017.
The seminary building was originally constructed in the 1930s for the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, which later closed the institution in 1976 and sold it to the state a year later. A nearby seminary in the park was later purchased by Bastyr University.