This image shows a schematic design of the exterior the Municipal Way Building downtown that was recently purchased by the Sealaska Heritage Institute. (Sealaska Heritage Institute)

This image shows a schematic design of the exterior the Municipal Way Building downtown that was recently purchased by the Sealaska Heritage Institute. (Sealaska Heritage Institute)

SHI purchases downtown building for Indigenous teaching program expansion

The building is adjacent to its downtown Walter Soboleff Building.

Two years after the construction of Sealaska Heritage Institute’s multimillion-dollar downtown arts campus, SHI is yet again expanding its footprint downtown.

On Friday afternoon, SHI, a Juneau-based nonprofit that focuses on protecting and perpetuating Southeast Alaska Native cultures, announced its recent purchase of a downtown building near the Walter Soboleff Building and according to Rosita Worl, SHI president, the building will be renovated to house an expansion of a program that integrates Indigenous-based knowledge into 6-12 grade classrooms.

“We see the growth of SHI directly related to the needs of our students and it has been very clear to us that we needed to have our students expand into the sciences,” she said in an email to the Empire.

SHI’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math program has been in place since 2019 and is a partnership between SHI and the Juneau School District. Worl said the expansion to the new place means students in the program will be able to take classes and partake in after-school activities, and SHI plans to collaborate with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Edgerton Center and Cook Inlet Tribal Council to develop the space, which will take up around a quarter of the building space. The remainder of the space will be used for other programs and storage.

According to the city assessor’s office, the building is valued at around $2.8 million, however, Worl said SHI will not be disclosing the purchase price of the building.

Worl said the idea to purchase the building has long been in the works, dating back to when construction of the Walter Soboleff Building was completed in 2015.

“I had thought that the adjacent building site would be the perfect location, but when I saw the sun streaming on the Sealaska parking lot, I knew we had to have the Arts Campus there,” she said. “However, I continued to feel that we should have the building next door to ensure that we

maintained the integrity of the ‘Heritage Square.’”

Some of its current renters include the City and Borough of Juneau Finance Department and Human Resources Department. According to City Manager Rorie Watt, the purchase likely means the city will have to begin thinking about finding a new place to house those departments.

“They didn’t buy it to have us as a tenant, they bought it to grow their programs,” he said. “I think short term we’re going to work with them to figure out how long to stay as a tenant but long term I think this raises our facility question up.”

Worl said there is still a long way to go before the building begins its renovation, noting SHI still needs to raise the funds to cover the cost. Some of the renovations include resurfacing the exterior of the building to visually complement the Walter Soboleff Building and the campus facility’s yellow cedar and ancient clan houses architecture.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.

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