Mercy Magnuson Place

Seattle, WA

Historic Renovation of the former Building 9 at Sandpoint has created 148 new units of affordable housing with childcare and health care services for the community.

The adaptive reuse of Mercy Magnuson Place into 148 units of affordable housing is a stunning example of historic renovation at its best, especially considering the existing condition prior to construction beginning.  After sitting vacant for decades, the building was an abatement professional’s dream come true. The URM building had extensive rot at the roof framing at both the north and center wings. There were concrete beams with significant cracks and spalling and fire had destroyed wood framing at the 3rd-floor attics.  In other words, for an engineering firm that loves historic renovation, we couldn’t wait to get our pencils sharpened and let the creative juices flow.


Developer:   Mercy Housing NW

Architect:   Tonkin Architecture

Contractor:   RAFN Company

Originally built: 1929-1944

Construction complete:  2019

Square footage:   224,000 SF





  • Historic Seattle’s 2020 Best Preservation Project Award
  • Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation's 2020 Valerie Sivinski Award for Outstanding Rehabilitation
  • National Tax Credit Coalition 2020 Charles Edson Award for Historic Preservation
  • Affordable Housing Finance 2020 Best Historic Rehab Award
  • 2020 Associated Builders and Contractors National Eagle of Excellence Award (Historical Restoration / Renovation $25 to $100 million category)

  • 2020 NAIOP Washington Judge's Award for Project of the Year

  • 2019 Washington Trust Honor Award for Passionate Preservation

The transformation of the former Naval Barracks at Sound Point Naval Air Station, known previously as Building 9, into the thriving community of Mercy Magnuson Place illustrates our favorite type of project.

By using our experience with historic preservation as well as phased construction, we provided retrofit upgrades including new steel brace frames and concrete shear walls to work in conjunction with the existing building components to address the building’s seismic deficiencies. When all the finishes were in place, people did not notice where the new structure was hidden which is the trademark of historic renovation done correctly. 

As structural engineers, a successful historic building renovation is truly dependent on our partnerships with the architect, contractor, and owner.  Our history with both Tonkin Architecture and the RAFN Company began over 30 years ago so we all breathed a collective sigh of relief knowing that the team had the experience to take on this challenging restoration. 

As you can imagine, Building 9 had its fair share of unforeseen conditions. And at one point during construction, a literal river ran through the basement with a little waterfall of groundwater. Through it all, the communications from the design and construction team showed their experience and wherewithal. No hysterical phone calls or urgent emails peppered with ASAPs. The Superintendent would just call up and nonchalantly say, “Hey, guess what?”  Not because any of us minimized the magnitude of the situation, but because our minds were already racing on possible solutions and coordinating things that would be impacted by this discovery. As the structural engineer, it is so helpful having the contractor proactively bringing ideas to the table so we can work with them to solve the problem as quickly as possible while minimizing cost impact.  Our easy collaboration with both contractors and architects is a cornerstone of ILGSE.

Building 9 was originally constructed in phases between 1929 and 1944 and is listed on the National Register for Historic Places. The 3-story, 224,000SF, irregular structure was a combination of building types. At the north wing, there were unreinforced masonry exterior bearing walls with a concrete framed floor system while the south wing was a typical concrete frame building with brick veneer over an atypical, single 9” thick wythe of a solid, very hard, fired brick. The center section of the building was only one story above grade and had existing structural steel trusses.  The main floor of the center section was the typical concrete floor construction found in the other wings. The entire building was supported on conventional concrete footings that bear on native soils.  Along with the retrofit concrete shear walls and steel brace frames described above, we also introduced  seismic gaps at each side of the building’s center section to provide separation between the two larger housing wings and the single-story center section.

This historic renovation created 148 affordable housing units in the north and south wings, while the center wing houses an early education center as well as a neighborhood health clinic. The impact that the adaptive reuse of this building has on the community cannot be understated. Mercy Magnuson Place will be home to families and continue to serve the greater community for decades to come. 

"My first glimpse at the inside of the abandoned, boarded-up Building 9 was during our first walk through with Les Tonkin*, John Koch,
and Ira Gross.

This was before the contractor was on board when we had to don the protective hazmat suits and respirator masks to enter the building. Instead, we had thin cloth masks and low wattage flashlights.  These were actual audio notes taken during this first site visit in 2014.     
The nerdy engineering notes have been omitted. You’re welcome.

  • The entire floor is covered in a thick layer of… the word muck doesn’t do it justice. I need new work boots anyway.
  • I hope that’s just a pigeon trapped in the building and not a demon of some kind.
  • They should really rent this place out on Halloween.
  • Only 15 minutes in and both Les and Ira have removed their masks because they can’t hear each other talk. 
  • It’s pitch black beyond the dim light of our headlamps. How long is this building? It doesn’t have an end. Les says in the background, “It’s 800 feet long!”
  • The graffiti on the walls should be featured in a music video.
  • The center wing’s roof is…. problematic. It has collapsed in some places and in others it’s just waiting for a well-fed squirrel to land in the wrong location before the rest of it goes. 
  • Don’t stray too far from the group or no one will ever find your body.
— Robyn Mah, Principal, ILGSE —

*Les Tonkin passed away in 2016. He worked tirelessly for decades trying to get Building 9 renovated – it was his passion project. Before he died, he was able to see the design come to fruition but sadly not the building. Les fought hard for ILGSE to be included on the team for this renovation when bigger, shinier firms were being courted. We are very grateful for his faith in us, his profound impact on historic preservation, and his friendship for over 30 years. 

When people ask us what exactly a structural engineering firm does, we tell them it’s really quite simple.

We keep the floors from touching.


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