The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

Balto School project design is 65 percent complete


Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

Kumin and Associates Inc., partner and principal architect Angie Barr for the Balto School project design, gives an update on the new leadership school’s design, which is now 65 percent complete.

Friends of the Jesse Lee Home invited area residents to a presentation by Angie Barr, the principal on the Balto Leadership School restoration project at the architecture firm of Kumin Associates Inc., at the Seward Library Museum on Friday.

While the architecture firm brought the project up to the current 65 percent design phase, the Anchorage-based group, and small staff working in Seward and AmeriCorps volunteers have been keeping busy fleshing out the leadership school’s semester-long curriculum for high school juniors who will one day attend.

The existing historic school buildings that they hope to renovate and put into use by fall 2015, meanwhile sit crumbling and windowless, exposed to the elements, gutted and vacant for 46 years.

The Balto Leadership School will be able to provide dorms for 85 students, six resident advisors, and apartments for a resident elderly couple, Barr said. The renovation would encompass two of its main buildings including the Balto Building and Jewell Guard Hall. These would be joined in the middle by a modern, ADA (handicap- accessible) visitor entry or “pavilion,” with a mechanical lift for wheelchair use. That segment would be clearly identifiable as new construction, but the other two buildings would be rebuilt to look almost exactly as they did 46 years ago, Barr said.

Jewell Guard Hall, the building nearest Phoenix Avenue, was the old dormitory and chapel. It has three floors, and will house all of the student dorms and resident assistance rooms. Its basement will have classrooms, a student laundry, a recreation room with TV and pool table, and a separate living room. The second floor will have more dorm rooms, another RA room, the elder’s apartments and the chapel/multipurpose room. The building also will have an East Arcade, leading nowhere, which could be a future connection to Goode Hall, a future renovation project.

Jewell Guard will be connected by an indoor corridor, decorated with historic photos, to the Balto Building. This would contain the dining hall, kitchen and support spaces such as classrooms, offices and a multi-purpose room.

There will be a flagpole out in front of the building, and the school will hold a community reception every Flag Day, to include the Alaska Flag, and displaying the original flag that perhaps the most famous former Jesse Lee student Benny Benson designed when he lived at the historic children’s home.

One of the project’s challenges, and also what makes it exciting and interesting, is the desire to have the project qualify on the National Historic Register, and also as a LEEDs (highly energy-efficient) building, Barr said. To that end, the architects will consider values of energy efficiency and sustainability, such as incorporating recycled construction materials as often as possible, using lumber from sustainable forests, and other things such as a dedicated bike path, root cellar, chicken coop, gardens, indigenous plant-only landscaping, a catch basin for onsite drainage, and minimal parking.

Due to the difficulties inherent in meeting these objectives, Kumin and Associates is hoping to bring a contractor onto the payroll with more experience in these areas, Barr said. The architecture firm also is pleased to have an incredibly detailed 3-dimensional scan of the Jesse Lee site with millions of data points that allow planners in a city office many miles away to see every stud in the building, the occasional beer can, and even the chalk marks on the building’s original beams, Barr said.

“I love that you’ve got a place for chickens,” commented one of the four residents who attended. Another liked the idea maintaining some of the existing native plants, and for situating parking off the road, behind the first building.

Margie Christiansen, who used to cook meals and deliver them to Benny Benson, her next-door neighbor in Kodiak, believes he would have been pleased by the renovation project. “It’s sad to see it this way though,” she said, referring to the state of the building as it is now. “They should hold a bake sale or something to fix it.”

That probably won’t be needed. To date the state legislature has made three separate appropriations toward the renovation project totaling $8 million. FJLH plans to ask state lawmakers for additional funding to complete the project, which is currently estimated at $11 million. FJLH also is competing for New Market Tax Credits for an additional $3 million. Estimating costs realistically, based on the design being implemented, is included in the upcoming part of the design phase.


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