Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


School demolition next week; More voices join effort to save old school, gym


October 13, 2011

Some residents mounted a last-ditch effort to save the elementary school and gym this month, but demolition appears on track to start next week.

"I’m pushing for an eleventh-hour stay of execution because I detest waste and what I see as a lack of imagination and foresight," said Larry Larson, who works as an architectural designer.

As of last week, a salvage crew was removing the gym floor. That spurred resident Becky Nash to spend "several hours" on the phone, trying to convince Haines Borough Assembly members and Mayor Jan Hill to delay the demolition. She said the women in her quilting group were concerned about the building’s fate.

"I guess realizing that people were actually going in and tearing stuff out of the building started the conversation with our quilters," Nash said. "Pretty much, we were appalled that a usable building was being torn down and destroyed. We felt if it could be used, it should be used, not for millions of dollars, but for what it is: a gym and classrooms that could be very flexible for community use."

The borough in September awarded Southeast Roadbuilders a contract up to $167,475 to complete the demolition. Roger Schnabel, Southeast Roadbuilders president, said the work likely would begin next week.

Neither assembly members nor Hill mentioned the elementary and gym at Tuesday’s meeting. Hill after the meeting told the Chilkat Valley News no assembly members contacted her about the demolition, and calls from the public have been split about whether the facility should be spared.

(Nash said she asked Hill to veto the assembly’s action to tear down the building.)

Borough manager Mark Earnest in his report for the assembly wrote, "The clearing of the property will help (facilitate) the development and phased construction of a new facility in that location."

Brian Lemcke, borough director of public facilities, in September told the assembly the remaining portion of the elementary was "worn out" and "it’s time for that building to come down."

MRV Architects of Juneau earlier this year concluded turning the building into a recreation and office center would "require a comprehensive renovation" and "the physical spaces of the existing project are not well-suited for the desired uses." MRV in 2010 estimated renovations would cost $3.3 million, "roughly 40 percent of the cost of comparable new construction."

Architectural designer Larson said projected renovation costs by MRV have been presented in an "all-or-nothing" manner. "Actual costs for improvements will depend on use, occupancy and the level of finish."

He said the borough could make improvements incrementally, "even if it’s just one room or section at a time."

"The building has value because it is sound and because it is there," Larson said. "Many public buildings currently in use in Haines are in far worse shape. When one of those buildings is destroyed, for whatever reason, the old school building will be looked at with renewed interest."

The replacement costs for the building would be "staggering," he said, and "in the meantime, it doesn’t cost anything to leave it standing."

"Everyone loves a new building, but the reasons given for tearing this one down don’t stack up," Larson said. "Normally a building is demolished because it is a public hazard or because the property is so valuable that the cost of a new one can be justified or because it isn’t in keeping with stringent local codes for appearance, styling, etc."

More than a dozen members of the Haines Volunteer Fire Department this week went through the building to conduct training exercises, said fireman Al Badgley. He estimated the damage at "a few thousand" dollars, if the structure were to be preserved.

"We advanced hose lines into the halls, going around corners, going through doors, etc.," Badgley said. "One of the things that was more like demolition is what we call breaching a wall, which means if you’re in one room and you can’t go out the door, you just bust through the sheetrock and go into another room. We did that about four or five times."

Firefighters also pried open doors and got into lockers as part of the training, he said.

Nash, the quilter, said she would like "bare bones" upgrades for the building, such as adding an elevator, heat and utilities. She said the costs keep going up as more materials are destroyed or removed.

"Who knows what’s going to be left for us to work with, if we get a chance at it?" she asked. "I just figure if the borough’s going to pay $160,000 to tear it down, why don’t they give a community organization that forms for that building the same money to match funds and do what it takes to get that building going?"

Assembly members have said they want to encourage increased use of the Chilkat Center for community activities. A government affairs and services committee meeting has been scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18 Chilkat Center basement to discuss the issue. Check to confirm the location.