Historic Yesler Plant re-dedicated
Old smokestack a landmark of hope at new Epstein Opportunity Center
SEATTLE — May 6, 2014— With smiles from young HeadStart participants and the snip of a bright red ribbon, the historic Yesler heating plant was rededicated today as the Epstein Opportunity Center.
"As we re-dedicate this building, it stands as visual proof that we listened to residents and are keeping our promises," said Executive Director Andrew Lofton. "It is now a center that focuses on meeting the needs of neighborhood residents for education and training. It demonstrates that our redevelopment is not just about new buildings, it's about transforming people's lives." Lofton went on to say, "I am sure the energy generated by this steam plant in the past will be exceeded by the energy and creativity generated by the residents who use this space."
The Epstein Opportunity Center
Named after Jesse Epstein, who led the effort to found the Seattle Housing Authority 75 years ago, the remodeled building now houses the Yesler Head Start Program operated by Neighborhood House, Seattle Housing's Economic Opportunity Program and Youth Tutoring, sponsored by Catholic Community Services.
Bill Block, Regional HUD Administrator, noted the significance of this first completed project at Yesler Terrace. "The Yesler Terrace redevelopment is not just about revitalizing public housing, it is about transforming the community, creating the supports and opportunities that allow its residents to thrive," he said. " Central to that work is the education and training that empower people to take advantage of opportunities. It is fitting that the first facility to open in a redeveloped Yesler Terrace is one devoted to education and training."
HeadStart Participants entertained the crowd at the re-dedication.
Mayor Ed Murray praised the building as a remarkable remodel project and commented on the importance of the neighborhood. "Yesler Terrace is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in our city, but it is also one of the most disadvantaged. This Epstein Opportunity Center will help to address that."
Building designated Historic Landmark in 2010
The building was given Landmark status by the City of Seattle in 2010. It is now preserved as Yesler Terrace's only uniquely mondernist building, serving as a reminder of the neighborhood's history. It's adaptive re-use involved seismic retrofitting of the building, including the 142-foot tall stack.
The original 7,500 square-foot buillding was used as a heating plant, and was built in 1941when Yesler Terrace was constructed. It provided hot water heat to the the neighborhood until it was decommissioned in 1989. In the intervening years it was used as a workshop and storage facility.
At the re-dedication, architect Brad Miller, of Miller Hayashi Architects, commented on the challenge of this adaptive re-use project. "We walked into this space with its simple lines and abundance of light and just said, 'Wow, how beautiful.' But then we thought, 'A HeadStart Program here? Really? No stairs, no lights, no heat?' That was a challenge. It is truly gratifying to see the children here today."
A Yesler Terrace Success Story
Xinyu Wang with Mayor Ed Murray
Xinyu Wang, a former Yesler Terrace resident, was the final speaker. Wang shared his story of his difficult path from non-English speaking immigrant to a debt-free college grad at age 24. He described the help he received from the Housing Authority, both in rental assistance and self-sufficiency counseling. "I am on my way to achieving the American tradition of home ownership," he said, "and I plan to continue to dedicate myself to helping others escape poverty."
During the remodel process an additional floor was added to the interior. A small addition on the east end added stairs, an elevator, restrooms and an entrance lobby. This more than doubled the floor area, to 16,000 square feet. A play area was also added to the roof, which formerly accommodated coal trucks supplying fuel to the boiler.