City upholds demolition of Providence Heights with conditions

After receiving over 100 letters protesting the proposed demolition of the Providence Heights campus, according to city of Issaquah Director of Economic Development and Development Services Keith Niven, the city of Issaquah has determined that the property can indeed be torn down, as long as the chapel’s one-of-a-kind, 30-foot stained glass windows are preserved.

The city issued a Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance on Monday that allows the proposal of demolition by the campus’ owner, Plateau Campus, LLC — a subsidiary of The City Church of Kirkland — to be carried out, with certain conditions.

According to the MDNS, each of the 14 stained glass windows — which were created by world-renowned French artist Gabriel Loire — must be “removed, catalogued, crated and securely stored until future use” before the city issues Plateau Campus a demolition permit. Plateau Campus must also show the city its plan for removing the windows, including “the contractor, their qualifications, information on transport and the storage location.”

The Providence Heights campus was built in the 1960s as a college for the Sisters of Providence. The campus was sold to the Lutheran Bible Institute in the late 1970s, and was bought in 2008 by The City Church.

In July 2016, the Issaquah School Board voted to move forward with condemnation of the property in order to put a new high school and elementary school on the site.

The city stated in the MDNS that it made the conditions because of the many public comments it received advocating for the windows to be preserved and because it “is concerned that the stained glass windows will be damaged during removal or during a time before they can be repurposed.”

The city cited three different city-adopted policies to support its decision, including Policy A5, “Give special attention to the celebration of native cultures and the community’s heritage and diversity,” and Policy B3, “Support efforts to secure space for the preservation of Issaquah’s physical heritage.”

After reviewing the SEPA checklist submitted in March by Plateau Campus, the city had issued a proposed Determination of Non-Significance at the beginning of April, which stated that the demolition of the property would not have an adverse effect on the environment, including the history and culture of the area.

During the two-week comment period that followed the issue of the proposed DNS, Niven said that the city received “in excess of 100 letters” and hundreds more signatures on petitions. This overwhelming number of public comments for a structure is unusual, Niven said, but he noted that Providence Heights is “something people have a passion about.” He said that by far the main concern of the letters was saving the chapel’s stained glass windows.

Loire made the windows especially for the Sisters using his signature dalle de verre style, setting thick pieces of colored glass in concrete rather than lead. Loire lived in Chartres, France, a city famous for its medieval, stained-glass-filled cathedral. His work can be found in significant places of worship around the world, including the Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, England, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, Germany and St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa.

Although the SEPA checklist had stated that Plateau Campus would give the windows back to the Sisters of Providence, many commentators said that there was too much of a lack of specificity in the promise to return the windows.

“Without a specific ‘Mitigated Determination of Nonsignificance,’ salvage of the windows appears to be only on ‘good faith,’ which is not acceptable,” stated the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation in its letter to the city. “The city of Issaquah should formally require much more extensive, meaningful mitigation measures if demolition of the campus becomes imminent.”

Niven said that the conditions put in the MDNS “caused the applicant to have to legitimize that effort” by saying, “You don’t get your demolition permit until you’ve safely removed the windows.”

He said that this was as far as the city felt it could go toward preserving part of the structure.

“We couldn’t say no [to the demolition] — we didn’t feel we have the legal right,” Niven said. “We’re in a position where we need to say yes, but we have the ability to put conditions on it. We felt like it was the best solution we could come up with.”

Colleen Wadden, director of external communication for Providence Health and Services, stated that Providence Health will be covering the costs of removing the windows and will find homes for each of the windows in fitting locations, such as in Providence Health hospitals and with the Sisters of Providence.

“We’re very grateful that [Plateau Campus] will allow us to remove the windows,” she said.

The MDNS can be appealed by filing a Notice of Appeal with the Issaquah Permit Center, located at 1775 12th Ave. NW. The appeal period ends at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, May 1. The city said that “appellants should prepare specific factual objections to be included in their appeal.”

The 14 stained glass windows were created by late, world-renowned artist Gabriel Loire especially for the Providence Heights campus. Photo courtesy of Michael Sladek

The 14 stained glass windows were created by late, world-renowned artist Gabriel Loire especially for the Providence Heights campus. Photo courtesy of Michael Sladek