Kirkland approves Northwest University’s 20-year master plan

The master plan proposes about 364,910 square feet of building and parking improvements.

The Kirkland City Council voted unanimously to approve Northwest University’s 20-year master plan at its Nov. 6 special meeting. Before the passage, Kirkland’s hearing examiner recommended the authorization.

By approving the master plan, which took about five years to develop according to a university spokesperson, the school will be a step closer to making several proposed construction projects a reality. The 20-year plan entails the addition of about 364,910 square feet of building and parking improvements. According to a press release, the renovations will impact an estimated 2,000 students by 2037.

About 13.2 acres worth of construction will be taking shape as the next two decades unfold. The university’s gym pavilion, welcome center and Ness Academic Center will be replaced. Several parking garages will be added. A new 300-bed residence hall, as well as chapel additions and a fitness center, will also be built. Improvements will be made to the university’s athletic field, including revamped lighting on its south side, AstroTurf, a new fieldhouse and updated bleachers.

“Most of the buildings would be interior and not visible from the exterior of the site,” Kirkland senior planner Tony Leavitt said.

Support, with caveats

Council, while supportive of the plan moving forward, did voice some reservations, particularly around usage of the new field, which can only be practiced on by organizations unaffiliated with Northwest University.

“It’s exciting to see one of our solid neighbors…expanding and prospering,” councilmember Tom Neir said.

But he added that he was wary of the restrictive field accessibility as part of the plan.

“Athletic teams have limited options for quality athletic fields and the city is struggling with this,” he said. “I support this permit going forward, but I also believe we should revisit that access to the field for more than just practice.”

Kirkland councilmember Kelli Curtis and Mayor Penny Sweet had similar concerns.

“When I think about just the access to the fields that we have to kids from all over the city, I think it’s something we should consider,” Sweet, who also noted that the upgraded field will be only the second turf field available in the city, said. “I think it’s something that we should consider as we look through our turf field evaluation in the future.”

Community member Larry Toedtli briefly spoke at the Nov. 6 meeting and said that he hoped that the execution of the plan would ensure that no onus around field use be placed on the shoulders of the surrounding community, citing previous experiences in the process.

“While the hearing examiner has concluded that the plan meets the decision criteria, the proof will actually be in how well it is implemented and enforced by the university and by the city and not on the backs of the neighborhood out here, as was the case with the previous master plan, which had continuous violations from 2010-14 on field use,” Toedtli said. “From that perspective, I think that needs to be taken into account.”

Toedtli brought up potentially doing check-ins throughout the plan’s implementation — something that councilmember Dave Asher was curious about as well.

Leavitt, in response, said there are specific parts of the plan that work to ensure that communication between the public and the university regarding construction is open, installing both field use coordinator and construction coordinator positions to give the public an outlet to voice concerns and receive information.

“That keeps things from festering over time, I think, and keeps the lines of communication open,” Leavitt said.

The university’s application for the plan will become effective depending on the final action of the Houghton Community Council in the coming weeks. If the majority of its members approve the plan through a resolution or don’t respond within 60 calendar days of the city council’s decision, Northwest University can proceed.

For more information about the adoption process, go to the Nov. 6 city council meeting agenda. To see the full conversation around the plan at the meeting, go to the city of Kirkland’s video recording.

Renovations to the school’s field are among the big projects under the master plan. Blake Peterson/staff photo

Renovations to the school’s field are among the big projects under the master plan. Blake Peterson/staff photo