Volunteer Park Conservatory restoration and upgrade complete after 20-year, multi-phase process

By Anthonio Pettit
FOC Executive Director


Volunteer Park Conservatory has been restored. After six months of construction the third and final phase of restoration was completed, and marked by a Gala Reopening Celebration held December 6, 2014.

Related: Gala Reopening Celebration PhotoGallery

The restoration andcapital improvement project cost close to $3 million ($2,116,759.00 as bid plus additives) and beganin May, 2014.

The project replaced an aging wooden glazing system and reinforced the iron structural framework in the Seasonal and Cactus houses of the century-old Victorian-inspired greenhouse. Precise replicas these structures were fabricated in long-lasting extruded aluminum and match the original historic structure in design, color, texture, and other visual qualities.

The old panes of glass were replaced with more efficient safety glazing, which afford an increase in rated occupational capacity, and provide some energy savings.

Before and after images of the new multi-purpose production facility. The new provides 1,500-square feet of usable production space which will double as a hands-on classroom for workshops.

Project History

Construction on the Conservatory began in late May, 2014, and progressed largely on schedule.

The first, and most dramatic change was the abatement and demolition of the defunct upper east production house.

Built in the 1920s to house the Conservatory Orchid collection, the upper-east production house had fallen into disrepair, and had been condemned for several years. By the 21st-century, the structure provided little more than moody atmosphere against the backdrop of Lakeview Cemetery.

Asbestos and lead paint were present in the materials removed, so care was taken in abatement.

Concrete forming and site utility work were started soon after.

Crews poured the footingfor the new production house, followed by stand walls and a concrete slab which support the new structure.

Time-Lapse Video of Production House Demolition

As part of the $3 million Volunteer Park Conservatory Restoration and Improvement project, the 90-year old condemned production house wasdemolished. The structure wasrebuilt using modern materials and design and provides additional grow space as well as opportunities for educational endeavors.

Concurrently, the Conservatory’s Cactus and Seasonal Houses are made progress as glazing and rotting wooden support beams were removed, although much more delicately than the production house. This was because the original century-old iron support beams were to remain in place.

Meanwhile, fabrication of extruded aluminum mullion bars was underway offsite. The fabrication process is multi-stage and is the single most time consuming element of the project.

Once the fabrication was completed, the components were brought on-site and assembled to assure proper fitting. then again taken down and shipped to paint, before finally returning to be refitted permanently.

By August Construction was proceeding at a steady clip, and was slightly ahead of schedule.

The Conservatory’s Cactus and Seasonal Houses’ structural steel was been refinished, re-secured and painted. The extruded aluminum mullions and muntins (the pieces that hold the glazing to the building) were nearly completed, and glazing of the Seasonal House began.

Crews demolished, and poured a new path ways and sidewalk to the Conservatory’s main entrance. The parking lot grade was repoured to comply with ADA guidelines on grade.

While the work was originally scheduled for October, completing it in August reduced the chances of delays due to inclement weather andon-schedule for the all-important December reopening.

As a bonus, additionalsewer and storm line replacement work was completed during this phase (a very needed item) as well as refurbishing planting benches in the Palm house.

In October, Volunteer Park Conservatory began a three-month closure to the public to finalize work both inside and out.

With the Cactus and Seasonal house structural supportfirmly in place, and the remaining safety glass panels wereinstalled.

Meanwhile, in the Palm House, crews werebusy shaping and fitting sheet metal for new planting benches. The old benches were too wide to meet ADA standards andthe new benches will help provide better access to those in wheelchairs.

The final phase of upgrade for the Conservatory was the installation of new outward-opening main doors on the Palm House, as well as Bromeliad and Cactus Houses, which will provide better egress in case of emergency.

Just below the Conservatory, the new east production greenhouse and multipurpose facility are making large strides as well. Beautiful new structural supports are in place, and glazing will be completed over the next few weeks.

By November, glazing on the Seasonal House was complete and the gardeners added soil to the planter benches and began to rebuild the displays using plants from the collection. Senior Gardener David Helgeson and his crew were on pins and needles in anticipation ofthe Conservatory Holiday Express train track. With an extremely limited window between the completion of the Seasonal House and the Gala Reopening Celebration.However, Helgeson and his crew of volunteers managedto deftly complete the track in record time.

Meanwhile, the all-new 1,550 square foot mixed-use greenhousehad been completed and looked stunning. The new facility features several improvements over the older west wing including wall-mounted radiators allowing much greater use of floor space. A new QCom environmental systemwas installed, which not only regulates temperature in the new houses, but provides accurate tracking and reporting of data in the two zones. The new system will control the vents, heating, and shade clothes to regulate temperatures throughout the year based on the weather.

In anticipation of using the new space in the new year the Friends of the Conservatory Education Committee identified over 50 classes for 2015, many of which will take advantage of the new space as a classroom. .

Even the Palm House Gift Shop got a makeoverthanks to and FOC board member and superstar volunteerDave Blythe who painted the walls and fixtures a cheery coat of paint. Shoppers are now treated to a much brighter shop thanks to a smart new palette of colors designed to compliment the merchandise while respecting the heritage of the Conservatory.

The final weeks of preparation were intense, but the entire project came together just in time for the big opening celebration.

The finished product bears an uncanny resemblance to the old Conservatory, but that is of course by careful design. Gone are the original Edwardian era swamp Cyprus supports, indeed gone are all but the most sturdy of the century old-building.We have managed to rebuild the Conservatory with an eye toward the future, using modern and durable materials. With any luck, the Conservatory won’t need another renovation for at least fifty years, and will remain strong for generations to come.

This improvement represents the final phase in the Conservatory’s contemporary restoration, which was started in 1993.

Funding for the project came from a partnership between Seattle Parks and Recreation, and the Friends of the Conservatory (FOC), a 501(c)(3) non-profit advocacy group. Working with the Seattle Parks Foundation as fiscal sponsor, the FOC completed a capital campaign in 2013 to generate public support and financing.

Kelly Gould of Seattle Parks and Recreation served as project manager. Adam Young Architecture & Design LLC is the project architect and Biwell Construction Inc. of Bellevue, WA, was awarded the construction contract. Both Adam Young and Biwell Construction had worked on the previous phases of the Volunteer Park Conservatory restoration.