Bronze 'W' sculpture replaces previous sign at 45th and Memorial Way

The north campus entrance is instantly recognizable after the recent addition of a prominent 'W' statue, funded by the class of 1960.

Where a humble stone marker engraved with the words "University of Washington" once sat, a seven-foot-tall bronze 'W' now greets students and visitors driving onto Memorial Way from Northeast 45th Street.

UW Landscape Architect Kristine Kenney said that a new sign was necessary to more clearly mark the campus entrance, as the old sign had been frequently obscured by shrubs.

The sculpture, designed by Michael Courtney Design of Seattle and manufactured off-campus, was part of the Campus Signage and Wayfinding Project, an effort to make the campus more attractive and easier to navigate for visitors and new students.

"I thought [the sculpture] would be a nice way to celebrate the new branding for the university [and] the fact that [the 'W'] is symbolic of what the university stands for," Kenney said.

When the recession hit, however, the UW put all capital projects on hold, including the signage project. That was when the UW Alumni Association (UWAA) stepped in.

Kenney said that Betsy Troutman, assistant director for special markets at the UWAA, had approached her asking if there were any capital projects that could be funded by alumni class gifts - specifically for the class of 1960, which celebrates its 50-year reunion this year.

"Because this is such a unique piece and such an iconic symbol of Husky pride, [the class of 1960 alumni] thought it'd be a great project for the class gift program," Troutman said. "We're really happy that it's installed and we're happy with how it looks and the fact that it's in such a prominent location."

She said the class of 1960 has raised about $100,000 for the project since July 2009.

However, the alumni still need to raise a couple thousand dollars to cover the cost of the new sign, Troutman said. "We're hoping to get that by the end of the year," Troutman said. "[The fundraisers] have a little bit left to do, but they're almost done."

Asked whether there had been any cost overruns, Kenney said, "I wouldn't say that [the project] was over budget so much as there were things that weren't anticipated during construction."

The combined weight of the concrete base and bronze sculpture turned out to be heavier than expected. The construction crew therefore had to install additional pilings around the base in order to prevent the structure from sinking into the soil, adding to the overall cost.

The old sign is currently in storage. Sometime in the future, Kenney hopes it will be moved to the Northeast 43rd Street pedestrian entrance, where it will be more visible to visitors entering campus from the Ave.

The remainder of the signage project, which originally would have replaced about 700 navigation and building signs, remains on hold.

"We're not sure if we want to go ahead and do more at this point," Kenney said. "We've heard that finding your way around this campus is difficult. ... We're actually looking at doing more of a study of the whole campus to see what the needs are, so that [it] can really be a benefit to the campus community."

Reach reporter Tiffany Vu at news@dailyuw.com.

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