It’s full steam ahead for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center as the Seattle institution is now fully occupying the historic Steam Plant building as part of an expansion of its South Lake Union campus.

Fred Hutch has spent two years refurbishing the 106-year-old building into 106,000 square feet of space suitable for 300 scientists and staff focused on immunotherapy, translational data science and related programs.

The new space expands Fred Hutch’s wet lab space by 15 percent and its total real estate footprint to 1.4 million square feet.

“The Steam Plant is an expansion, not only of space, but of the way we do collaborative research and the connections between people and disciplines,” said Fred Hutch President Dr. Thomas Lynch Jr., said in a news release Thursday. “It’s more square footage, but it’s also about proximity — proximity of individuals to others whose work enhances their own and proximity of working groups to other complementary groups. It’s an evolution of the concept of multidisciplinary research.”

According to Fred Hutch, staff are already occupying and working in the building, following the same daily COVID-19 symptom screening, masking, hygiene and physical distancing mandates as personnel across the institution’s campus. Through a phased approach, entire labs are being allowed on site provided that they adhere to on-campus guidelines.

With its distinctive row of smokestacks visible from I-5 in Seattle, the Steam Plant was previously occupied by ZymoGenetics, a Seattle-based biotech that moved into the building in the early 1990s and held the lease until 2018. Fred Hutch signed a renewable 10-year lease that year.

The steam plant in 1921. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

The building was built in 1914 and abandoned in 1987. The current smokestacks are replicas of the original stacks and were installed in 1994 when the building received historic preservation status. The Steam Plant is currently owned by Alexandria Real Estate Equities, which also built the Seattle headquarters for Juno Therapeutics.

In addition to accelerating cancer and related disease research, Fred Hutch will also use the Steam Plant as a modern learning facility for early-career scientists.

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