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August 13, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Seattle Central Community College should get Beacon Hill landmark PacMed

tzramazonbldg24 The choice of turning the old PacMed Center into apartments or classrooms is expected to be made Tuesday.

The Pacific Hospital Preservation and Development Authority, the public entity that owns the sprawling art deco-style building atop Beacon Hill, is holding a public meeting Tuesday starting at 6 . Afterward, the authority’s governing council is expected to vote on whether to lease the Pacific Tower  building to Seattle Central Community College or to a Miami-based developer looking to convert the historic building into market-rate apartments.

For reasons underscoring the vital importance of education and healthcare, Seattle is better off if the college is chosen. Seattle Central’s plan to expand its nursing, dentistry, respiratory, surgical technical and optician programs would increase employment options for students entering the fast-growing medical fields. Healthcare providers would have access to skilled, locally-trained employees.

There is an appropriate interest in keeping the building consistent with its historic role as a place for good health care. The building was built in 1932 as a hospital for military veterans, merchant seamen and the Coast Guard.  From 1998 to 2011, the building was the headquarters for Amazon.com.

A credible plan is not marred by the big feet of House Speaker Frank Chopp, who unilaterally earmarked $20 million from the state capital budget to pay for Seattle Central’s renovation of the building. An additional $4.8 million from the state operating budget would cover lease payments and other operating costs for two years.

Chopp’s rare public flexing of political muscle, detailed in this Times story, rankled some, including Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina. Chopp’s 43rd legislative district includes Seattle Central and the Democrat found a workable way to preserve a historic building and help a fine educational institution grow.

Chopp is not the first legislator on either side of the political aisle to earmark money for a project in his or her district. That does not mean keeping an eye on the public debt created by capital spending is not a worthwhile endeavor. It is. But in this case, the spending is on an important and beneficial project.

Comments | Topics: democrats, Education, health care

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