A committee of the Haines Borough Assembly took a baby step toward funding a Chilkat Center roof repair at a Dec. 27 workshop.
The borough recently received a $650,000 estimate to rebuild the center’s roof, including structural work and replacement of cedar shakes with metal roofing. Adding insulation is expected to stem a problem that starts when snow melts at the peak, leading to flooding when water encounters "ice dams" on the gambrel-roof structure.
Assembly member Debra Schnabel said she was willing to spend borough funds to repair the roof, but she also would set a schedule for divesting responsibility for the building.
"I like being responsible. I like being accountable. But not forever," Schnabel said, suggesting a timeline of five or 10 years. "I’m willing to fix the roof and look at options that will make the building not the 100 percent obligation of the borough."
Schnabel said the borough had money for the fix, which should reduce heating and maintenance costs, making it easier on another entity to take over management. Schnabel drew a distinction between the building and the activities that happen there.
"I don’t think anyone in the community wants that activity to go away. But I don’t know that there’s support for an $11 million (building) replacement or a $5 million refurbishment," Schnabel said. She characterized the work as "nursing" the building along, but said its long-term prospects weren’t good.
Borough facilities manager Brian Lemcke said the roof fix wouldn’t address the structure’s underlying issues, including heating, ventilation, lack of insulation and handicap accessibility.
The committee meeting also was to discuss returning the building to ownership of Alaska Indian Arts, a local non-profit that administered grants that helped remodel the structure in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Annette Smith, a member of the Chilkat Center advisory committee, said she’d rather see the building remain in borough hands. AIA president Lee Heinmiller said his organization would take the building back if that was necessary to preserve its arts function. "We’d take it back before we saw it emptied."
State Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, last month said he would get state funding for roof repair if the building was transferred to ownership of Alaska Indian Arts. Thomas attended the committee meeting and clarified his statement, saying it stemmed from published comments by Chilkat Center advisory committee member Tresham Gregg.
A Nov. 24 newspaper story quoted Gregg reporting the pending formation of a Friends of the Chilkat Center group. "I read the article and assumed they would take it back if the roof was fixed," Thomas said.
Asked by committee chair Steve Vick whether the borough could get $600,000 in legislative funds without borough transfer of the center to AIA, Thomas said: "The reason I keep getting pushed into a corner...I can name you five buildings Haines wants money for...What do you want to do?"
Thomas compared the center repair to the Port Chilkoot Dock, which following a recent restroom project, needs a trestle replacement. "We’re piece-mealing. What it comes down to is, come up with a plan. You look at the master plan and decide what you’re going to build."
Mayor Stephanie Scott said use of other buildings, like the American Bald Eagle Foundation and the renovated Harriett Hall, has eroded use of the center. "The biggest expense is the theater and that’s empty most of the time. But it still requires heat. If the community is going to have a theater, we have to accept the expense of that."
Scott said the borough had hoped public radio station KHNS would be able to "market" the building to promote more use and increase income, but that hasn’t panned out. "We’re really at a nexus here where we need to get additional revenue for marketing that building."
Rep. Thomas suggested the borough tourism department be tasked with marketing the building for a few years.
Assemblyman Daymond Hoffman said part of the problem was that half the town sees the building as not being used effectively or efficiently. Toward the end of the meeting, Vick said he was willing to recommend to the assembly to find a way to include the roof fix in the coming year’s budget.
Vick also expressed concern about other borough buildings needing attention. "We need to balance this with what we’re doing for other facilities."