Haines Public Safety Building
The public safety building is in need of repairs, but coming up with funding has been an extended process for the Haines Borough. (Lex Treinen/Chilkat Valley News)

Assembly members are raising questions about the costs and design of the $30 million project to rebuild Haines’ public safety building even after securing more than $14 million in state and federal funding. 

The aging building has been a concern for the fire and police departments, who have complained of inadequate electrical capacity, failing walls, inadequate parking for fire engines, and the potential for flooding in the event of a tsunami for years. 

The new design, which is at 65%, proposes replacing the entire building and relocating to a site uphill from the current one. But some assembly members are raising concerns about costs and designs after the estimated price tag doubled since 2021. 

“How is it going to cost more to build a public safety building than a dock?” said member Gabe Thomas, referring to the borough’s $25 million project to rebuild Lutak Dock. 

The new building would house the borough’s fire and police departments, dispatch, and jail. It would also include facilities for a training center that could be used by other community organizations like the Chilkoot Indian Association and the Haines School, something the borough said opened the project up to more funding pools.

The borough has already spent about $100,000 for design work from Bettisworth North, an Anchorage-based architect. 

The borough got $1.25 million from the state in the recently-approved capital budget, though that has yet to withstand potential vetoes by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The borough already had been awarded $13 million by the federal government and had asked for an extra $10 million from Rep. Mary Peltola’s office, which it didn’t receive. 

That leaves a shortfall of at least $16 million that the borough may have to cough up from its own funds through bonding if it sticks with the current design. Borough manager Annette Kreitzer said the current federal funding comes from four different pots of money, each with its own rules. At this point, it’s not clear whether those funds would still be available if the borough decided to change designs. 

But some are concerned that even the $30 million doesn’t account for the full cost of the project. 

“I am also very concerned about the hidden costs of this project,” said member Debra Schnabel. 

She pointed to the costs of expanding on the current borough administration office to add assembly chambers, which are currently housed within the public safety building. 

She also pointed to potential costs of clearing out the current public safety building, which sits between Second and Third avenues on the Haines Highway. 

Members agree that they don’t want a redux of other borough projects where public opposition mounted after funding had already been secured and it was too late to reverse construction. 

Mayor Tom Morphet pointed to the cruise ship dock project, which he said ran into last minute protests after the public learned it would take away sections of the beach. He also pointed to the Small Boat Harbor, which turned four acres of waterfront property into a parking lot. 

“We run into these problems all the time with these projects when the public is only vaguely aware of what’s going on and then we get all this funding, and the public goes ‘wait a minute’,” said Morphet. 

Morphet said he hoped for a meeting in the near future with the manager and architect to discuss the current plan and funding options. So far there’s been little talk under the current assembly about the project as it’s been consumed with projects like the Lutak Dock and appeals over a Lutak Road gravel project. 

“I’m hoping for a more robust public discussion project,” he said. 

Kreitzer said she was waiting on final word from the office of Alaska U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski about whether there is any funding possibility this year, though Kreitzer said her understanding is that is unlikely. She said once that question is finalized, she’ll update the assembly on its options. 

“The question now is we’ve sunk a lot of money in the design at 65%  is do we continue with this design? … or do we say we have to pause here? … Or do we have to go back to the drawing board?” said Kreitzer.