Churchome plans to begin demolition of the Providence Heights campus this Saturday, Jan. 6, while newly-formed local nonprofit Preserve Providence Heights is currently awaiting a document that it hopes will halt demolition altogether.
Demolition of the former college of the Sisters of Providence by its current Kirkland-based owner Churchome (formerly The City Church) was scheduled to begin on Dec. 20.
The campus was the site of a contentious battle between Churchome and a group of hundreds of preservationists in Issaquah and Sammamish throughout 2017.
Preservationists argued that the campus, built by the Catholic church to help even the academic opportunities for female and male members of the clergy, holds significance in the history of women’s education in the Pacific Northwest. Additionally, they pointed to the chapel’s 14 stained glass windows, each 30 feet high, which were designed by late, world-renowned French artist Gabriel Loire.
Churchome argued that its First Amendment right to freedom of religion grants it the right to decide to demolish its own piece of property, and that any attempt to stop this is an infringement of its constitutional rights.
The city of Issaquah granted Churchome a demolition permit in the spring, but Issaquah Hearing Examiner Ted Hunter ordered the permit revoked in September in an appeal by the Sammamish Heritage Society.
Hunter based his decision largely on the fact that the Issaquah Landmarks Commission named the campus a city of Issaquah landmark in July.
However, Churchome, unhappy with the landmark and appeal decisions, filed a lawsuit against the city of Issaquah.
On Oct. 24, the city reached a settlement with Churchome through the King County Superior Court. In exchange for Churchome dropping the suit, the city granted Churchome to begin demolition at its earliest convenience.
On Nov. 30, Preserve Providence Heights filed a motion to intervene with the King County Superior Court.
King County Judge Julie Specter granted the motion on Dec. 7 on the basis that the city had colluded with Churchome behind closed doors, while leading everyone to believe it was acting in the interest of the community members and its own Landmarks Commission who wanted to preserve the campus.
“The court finds that the existing parties collaborated in secret to develop a proposed order and judgment and gave no one else any notice that the collaboration was underway or that a proposed order and judgment were being proposed for entry,” Specter wrote in the court’s findings.
“The existing parties were well aware of the interests of the community, including the applicant’s members, to preserve the subject property, yet provided them no hint that the city was not going to defend the plaintiff’s claims,” she continued.
Two weeks later, PPH filed a motion to vacate the court’s Oct. 24 judgment.
According to King County Superior Court documents, after learning that demolition could be delayed without a major delay in project completion, Churchome agreed to postpone demolition until after the holidays.
At the same time, PPH awaits a judgment on the motion to vacate the settlement.
If the court decides to vacate it, “demolition would not start, and any ongoing pre-demolition work should halt,” explained David Bricklin, attorney for PPH.
He said that the case would “be back to where it was shortly after the church filed the lawsuit,” and noted that PPH would be defending the city’s landmark designation.
On Dec. 21, PPH members held a candlelit vigil outside the Providence Heights property. They sang Christmas carols and informed passers-by of the effort to save the campus.
According to a stipulation by the city, Churchome must safely remove and preserve the windows before demolition. However, some architecture experts stated during the appeal that the windows could not be removed without the entire structure collapsing due to the way in which the chapel was built.