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NOAA's Development of the
Western Regional Center

NOAA's Western Regional Center houses the largest variety of NOAA programs at a single location in the United States. It also employs the largest NOAA staff outside the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

Located on the northwestern shore of Lake Washington at Sand Point, the completed facility is the culmination of more than ten years of planning and development. It is composed of nine major buildings and a vessel staging pier. Three of the new buildings provide offices and laboratory facilities for NOAA components and a fourth is a multipurpose auditorium. There is also an employee services center and a heated warehouse building with various shops. As NOAA's new Center is located on the site of an old Naval Air Station, two former aircraft hangars have been refurbished to provide indoor workspace and covered storage. The original control tower building located at the south end of the site served as temporary office space.

The Sand Point facility has a long history of interest and involvement with local government and citizen groups. The disposition of the Sand Point site in December 1974 was the subject of considerable controversy and public discussion in Seattle. The final decision was to give part of the land to NOAA for development of a Regional Center and the remainder to the City for a park.

In 1975 the Seattle City Council established the Sand Point Liaison Committee. Mayor Wes Uhlman appointed nineteen members to the group, representing eleven community clubs, the City of Seattle, the University of Washington, the Sand Point Country Club and a group of citizens. The first meeting was held in May 1975 and has continued on a near-monthly basis ever since. Working with NOAA and the Seattle Parks Department, the citizen's group reviewed all designs and helped shape the development of both projects.

Construction of the Western Regional Center first began in 1977 with the building of an access road connecting NOAA's property with Sand Point Way.

Later that year a court injunction, ordered in response to a group of citizen's concerns over NOAA's ships in Lake Washington, prevented additional work from proceeding while NOAA officials prepared a supplement to the project's environmental impact statement. When the injunction was lifted in mid-1979, work resumed with the removal of the old runway and building of an earth berm around part of the site. That year dredging of a portion of the shoreline began. Eventually, 490,000 cubic yards of bottom materials were removed and placed behind the berm to dry and settle before being used for landscaping, constructing parking areas, and making other improvements to the site.

Also in 1979, construction of the Operations Building (Building 1) began and was completed in 1981. The building houses over 300 employees, whose major activities are: The Seattle Forecast Office of the National Weather Service, the Northwest Regional Office of National Marine Fisheries Service, the Western Administrative Support Center, the Northwest Office of the General Counsel, and the Northwest Ocean Service Center.

The Employee Services Building (Building 2) opened in February 1983. It houses a cafeteria and dining area, an employee health unit, and a seminar room. Food services are managed by a contract with the Washington State Commission for the Blind.

The Shops Complex (Building 8) consists of a heated warehouse and a variety of shops for carpentry, painting, metal working, and instrument repair and assembly. The NOAA Dive Center occupies space in the north end of the building, including a 30-foot dive tower. A mobile boat hoist and an overhead bridge crane are available to transport launches into the building's boat shop from the staging pier. This building has been in operation since December 1982.

The staging pier just north of the Shops Complex provides temporary berthing for occasional visits by NOAA's hydrographic and research vessels. The L-shaped pier extends 192 feet into the lake and 252 feet parallel to the shoreline.

The two large research buildings (Buildings 3 and 4) house the research activities of NOAA in Seattle. Building 3 is occupied by the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, the Office of Oceanography and Marine Services, the Nautical Chart Division of the Pacific Marine Center, and the National Environmental Satellite, Data & Information Service. Elements of the National Marine Fisheries Service will occupy Building 4 in mid-1984. While similar in their outward appearance, each Research Building is designed to meet the particular needs of the occupants.

The Auditorium (Building 9) provides seating for 262 people. The building has a stage and is equipped with a sound system and projection room. Two seminar rooms provide meeting space for 50 to 75 people.

The design and materials used in constructing the new buildings reflect NOAA's technological and scientific mission while providing vistas across Lake Washington for the occupants. Trees and shrubs integrate buildings and parking lots with the natural shoreline setting. Large open areas of field grasses maintain a habitat for Lake Washington shorebirds, thus preserving a unique environment for wildlife. Open meadows on the southern portion of the site provide a visual continuity with the adjacent Magnuson Park. Over 1800 trees grace the campus, including maples, poplars, cottonwoods, western red cedars, myrtles and hawthornes. Azaleas, lilacs, various berry trees and many other varieties and perennials are among the 4,200 shrubs which have been planted.

Six outdoor public artworks by five nationally important artists have been installed along the shoreline and near the Operations Building. These works of art provide for a unique and memorable experience for employees and the public. One of the more well-known pieces is 'The Soundgarden", a large pipe and wind-vane sculpture which creates music when the wind interacts with it. The band Soundgarden took their name from this art work.

Visitors are invited to tour the facilities, to see the exhibits, and to enjoy the setting of NOAA's Western Regional Center.