Peter Segall / Juneau Empire Fencing goes up around the Sealaska building parking lot in downtown Juneau on Thursday. By this time next year, SHI hopes to have its arts campus open and running, if not yet fully finished.

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire Fencing goes up around the Sealaska building parking lot in downtown Juneau on Thursday. By this time next year, SHI hopes to have its arts campus open and running, if not yet fully finished.

Work begins on SHI’s arts campus

COVID canceled the groundbreaking, but not the construction

Construction has officially begun on Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Arts Campus in downtown Juneau with hopes to be mostly completed by next summer, according to Chief of Operations Lee Kadinger.

“A leap of faith,” Kadinger called it in a phone interview with the Empire Thursday. “It’s an exciting time, we’re able to take advantage of starting construction at a time least impactful to the community.”

The groundbreaking was meant to be in June during Celebration 2020and involve a big ceremony but the coronavirus pandemic forced plans to change. The pandemic also caused some funding issues with the project, as some financial partners had to drop out, Kadinger said. In May, the City and Borough of Juneau put a decision to contribute $1.5 million to the project on hold.

But SHI has $10.4 million of the projected $13.2 million it’s going to take to complete the project, Kadinger said, so the decision was made to go ahead with construction and build what they could and make space for the future.

[Assembly puts arts campus support decision on hold]

“What we’ve effectively done is cut out items from our immediate construction,” Kadinger said. “The exterior of the Art Campus and the underground parking should be complete by July of next year. We’re prioritizing the facility and looking at what can we add down the road. We’re doing this in a phased way that allows our partners to join us when they’re able.”

Kadinger said the canopies covering portions of the outdoor areas wouldn’t be immediately constructed, but what is built will be constructed so things like the canopies and other amenities can easily be integrated into the campus later.

Fencing goes up around the Sealaska building parking lot in downtown Juneau on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl said the project is the next step toward making Juneau the Northwest Coast arts capital of the world. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Fencing goes up around the Sealaska building parking lot in downtown Juneau on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl said the project is the next step toward making Juneau the Northwest Coast arts capital of the world. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

“We’ll have like an à la carte menu, as we raise more money we keep adding things to the project,” he said.

What will be constructed are classrooms. Those will allow wood- and metal-working members of the public to sign up for and attend classes either in-person or virtually. The pandemic allowed SHI to adapt their classes for distance learning.

“Members of the public will be signing up for classes that will be available, how to carve a mask, they’ll be able to attend physically or attend via the e-learning that will be integrated into the learning space,” Kadinger said.

SHI already had one class delivered electronically over the summer, he said, and had students attending from around Alaska and the Lower 48. More classes are currently being adapted for distance learning, Kadinger said, but aren’t ready yet.

In a news release Wednesday SHI President Rosita Worl called the beginning of construction “a momentous day.”

[Video: Sealaska’s Rosita Worl talks about her vision for new arts campus]

“We moved forward with construction and in that instant, the Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus became very real. We are now building phase two of our vision to make Juneau the Northwest Coast arts capital. We can’t wait to share the arts campus with the community and the world.”

In the release, Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon said the campus would become a creative venue for Alaska Native art and bring educational and economic benefits to the region.

The construction project would employ 55 people, Kadinger said, adding SHI felt a sense of social responsibility to try and provide jobs during a time of economic downturn.

The arts campus was designed by MRV Architects and will be built by Dawson Construction, the release said, the same companies that designed and built the Walter Soboleff Building respectively.

In 2018, CBJ designated the area around Front and Seward Streets as Heritage Square, and SHI says their goal for the campus is to expand Alaska Native and Northwest Coast arts and practices which are unique in the world and in some cases endangered.

“We’re creating a vision that will be wonderful for Juneau in the long term, in the short term provide economic and other kinds of relief,” Kadinger said.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.

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