Behind the Scenes with the Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance

In our Q&A series, we take a candid look at projects, hearing from the engineers who bring them to life. In the latest round, Civil Associate Principal Jackie Sempel, Civil Project Manager Bailey Cook, and Civil Project Engineer Katlyn Christenson share insights from the Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance.

A first-of-its-kind development, we are honored to be on the majority women-led project team for the WNBA practice facility, the only one in the country dedicated solely to female athletes.

Tell us a bit about the project.

Jackie Sempel: The Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance will be the first practice and training facility built exclusively for a women’s professional athletic team. Not only does this project hold significant meaning for both the community and me as a former college athlete, but working alongside the design team made it one of my favorite projects ever.

This facility is a groundbreaking achievement and a significant milestone for women’s sports in America. As the first of its kind for any professional women’s sport, it serves as a symbol of progress and inclusivity in sports. It not only provides world-class training and resources for the Seattle Storm players, but it also fosters a sense of community and unity among the fans and supporters.

Bailey Cook: I absolutely agree with Jackie! Collaborating with the team to bring this training facility to life has been so exciting. As for the building itself, the facility will include training rooms, a pool, basketball courts, locker rooms, and offices. Our design included frontage improvements on three different streets, a detention pipe system to meet flow control requirements, bioretention planters, utility connections, and site design for a parking lot and entry plaza.

How does this project impact the city or its community?

Bailey: This project will have a huge impact on the city and the community. From start to finish, the core of the project has been about creating a home for the Seattle Storm that can inspire young girls and the community, demonstrating that anything is possible if you have a dream, a purpose, and work hard.

Katlyn Christenson: This project shows that Seattle will foster women’s athletics. It’s incredible to see a professional women’s team with so much support. As a team with four WNBA championships under their belt, I can’t wait to see what they do next.

What makes this project different?

Jackie: The design and construction team is primarily female! I never imagined encountering an AEC design team that consisted of 85% females. It was fascinating to witness how quickly we let our guards down, allowing the team to bond early on and resulting in one of the best collaborative environments of my career.

What are some of the facility’s unique features?

Jackie: Efficiency was a big part of this project. We looked for anything that could function in more than one capacity. For example, the parking area to the north of the building will also serve as space for outdoor 3×3 tournaments. The Force 10 owners wanted to provide a space for this new Olympic sport while maintaining its function for building users. This proved challenging given the strict slope requirements for the courts while maintaining drainage.

Bailey: To make this design a reality, we worked with ZGF Architects and Walker Macy to meet the specific grading requirements that basketball courts need, while simultaneously keeping the courts clear of as many manhole covers as possible. However, since our detention system is located under the parking lot, we were required to provide maintenance access. For the manhole covers that we couldn’t avoid, our team came up with a really fun solution.

Because the City of Seattle requires all stormwater manhole cover lids to display the word “storm,” our team suggested that we design one-of-a-kind manhole covers that are installed along the baseline of the outdoor court area that say “Seattle Storm.” It’s such a fun detail that the entire team is really excited about.

Do you have a favorite feature? Any engineering standouts?

Jackie: The “Seattle Storm” manhole covers. The design team went above and beyond to make the access lids of the detention system a unique site feature.

Bailey: I’m excited to see the frontage improvements. Since the project is in an industrial area, the site currently has no sidewalks or greenery. It will be great to see how the new frontage improvements transform the pedestrian experience for the Storm and the neighborhood.

Katlyn: My favorite features are the bioretention planters. Bioretention planters are great because they’re functional as well as beautiful. These verdant features clean the roof runoff before entering the public storm system, which eventually makes its way to open waterways (where I swim!). Designed under the new 2021 Seattle Stormwater code, we worked diligently with the design team to meet the needs and intent of the building.

And a cool add-on: EV charging stations incorporated into the bioretention planter wall help ease tight space conditions.

What was the biggest challenge the team faced?

Bailey: The high groundwater table created challenges. Other than the pools, the building is designed to stay above the groundwater table, including our detention system. This helped reduce construction costs, detention size, etc., and also reduced the amount of fall across the site. It was a big challenge to get stormwater from the plaza and bioretention planter on the south side of the site under the building to the detention system. We worked closely with PAE Consulting Engineers and ZGF Architects to coordinate that.

Jackie: Despite the substantial grade change across the site, the presence of high groundwater established constraints to the fall we had available in the drainage system. Once the team decided to keep most of the project above the water table, everything tightened up quickly.

Were there any examples of issues we were able to identify early that helped the design process?

Bailey: Like Jackie mentioned, there’s a good amount of grade change across the site and no sidewalks. Based on our experience working in downtown Seattle, we were able to identify early on what the required frontage improvements would be, the challenges with grading in the right-of-way, and how to make that align with the on-site grading for the entry plaza, parking lot, and loading dock entrances.

Jackie: Concrete vaults are typically the most efficient method for detaining stormwater for a site with space constraints. However, given the high groundwater present on this site, our civil team explored several detention options before landing on a CMP detention pipe system, and chose to locate it under the parking lot. This approach, along with input from Sellen Construction, not only helped to save the project money but will also reduce construction time.

What was one thing you learned during this process?

Bailey: I learned a ton about methane mitigation. This site was previously contaminated, so we needed to prevent any methane from entering the building. Our sub-slab drainage system doubles as a way to get methane out from under the building slab.

Jackie: I also learned a lot about methane mitigation. This area was previously used as a landfill, so as organic material decomposes, we learned that it produces a variety of gases, methane being one of them. As Bailey mentioned, we were able to use our sub-slab drainage system in two ways: 1) to protect the building from groundwater and 2) to create a buffer from potential methane gas.

Why did you like working on this project?

Bailey: The team both internally and externally were great to work with. And the design team was 85% women which was really refreshing and unique. The team was very supportive and collaborative; everyone was on board with the shared goal of creating an amazing facility for the Storm team.

Katlyn: I have really enjoyed working with Jackie and Bailey. They are such great communicators and mentors. I’ve also learned a ton about Seattle standards through working on this project as well as learning from Bailey’s experience working in the city. It’s been hard work but working with collaborative people makes it so much fun. And going to the groundbreaking was also amazing.

I liked working with _____ because…

Bailey: The ZGF Architects team. The way they led the team created a very collaborative, supportive, and motivated environment that allowed us to identify issues early and work out solutions quickly.

Jackie: I second that. The ZGF team was exceptionally fun to collaborate with. They kept design meetings engaging and entertained suggestions from all consultants regardless of the topic at hand. This project was truly a team effort reflected by their leadership style.

What will it feel like to see this project complete?

Jackie: The satisfaction of seeing something tangible created by our work is truly rewarding. The successful completion of this site and building will be the result of an incredible amount of teamwork, and it will be a proud and gratifying moment for our Coughlin Porter Lundeen team as well as the entire project team.

Bailey: I will feel sincerely proud to have been a part of this project. I hope that this building will show the next generation of women that you can do anything you set your mind to, whether that’s being a professional athlete or an engineer.

A few quick-fires from Jackie:

  • One word to describe this project: Exceptional.
  • Project team member who needs a free lunch: Megan Pryor from ZGF Architects kept every design meeting engaging and led the team to success.
  • When visiting, the first thing I will check out is: The outdoor basketball courts.
  • This project has the best: Manhole covers.
  • Next up, I can’t wait to design: The new Inglemoor High School.

A few quick-fires from Bailey:

  • One word to describe this project: Inspiring.
  • Project team member who needs a free lunch: Kari Lien. She absolutely killed it with drafting on this project.
  • When visiting, the first thing I will check out is: The entry plaza with championship year markers.
  • This project has the best: Manhole covers!
  • Next up, I can’t wait to design: A commercial office project called 1305 Stewart.

A few quick-fires from Katlyn:

  • One word to describe this project: Rewarding.
  • Project team member who needs a free lunch: Megan Pryor from ZGF Architects. She is so great at coordinating with all the disciplines and hearing everyone out.
  • When visiting, the first thing I check out is: The bioretention planters and detention system. But when the project’s completed, I’ll check out the pool. (Typical since I’m a swimmer!)
  • This project has the best: Manhole covers.
  • Next up, I can’t wait to design: My first Pk-12 project.

Go behind the scenes with some of our other favorite projects: The Astor at The Washington Building, WWU Interdisciplinary Sciences Building, The Lodge at Saint Edward State ParkThe Little School Rivers Building, and Mount Si High School.

Project Team: Owner: Force 10 Enterprises LLC. / Owner’s Representative: barrientos RYAN / Architect: ZGF Architects & Shive-Hattery Architects / Civil Engineer: Coughlin Porter Lundeen / General Contractor: Sellen Construction / Structural Engineer: Holmes Group / Landscape Architect: Walker Macy / MEP Engineer: PAE Consulting Engineers / Lighting Designer: Rushing Co. /  Aquatics Consultant: Counsilman-Hunsaker

Renderings and images designed by ZGF Architects and Shive Hattery, built by Sellen Construction