Lead paint removal required the 1929 structure to be wrapped all summer, so researchers worked inside a tent of industrial-grade plastic.

Lead paint removal required the 1929 structure to be wrapped all summer, so researchers worked inside a tent of industrial-grade plastic.


Daily Sitka Sentinel

SITKA, Alaska — After a summer wrapped in plastic, the Sitka Sound Science Center got its day in the sun.

Construction crews worked all summer on the two-story concrete building, removing decades-old lead paint, refinishing the exterior and installing new windows.

Lisa Busch, executive director of the science center, said it was a long time to be trapped in “the bubble.”

“It was loud and noisy and very messy and the staff had to put up with a lot,” Busch said.

The plastic came off last week.

Busch said the Sage Building, which houses the Sitka Sound Science center, was built in 1929 for $50,000. Four score and five years later, the science center has spent 26 times that figure — $1.3 million — to refurbish the exterior. Science center board member Steve Clayton, who is also on the building committee, said the structure had a number of issues including a leaky roof, falling concrete and windows that failed in the 1980s.

“We put together a project as a group to restore, historically restore, the building as best we could to be correct with the era of the late 20s early 30s,” Clayton said.

Here is the team: FD Thomas, concrete work; Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, with Rocco Romero and Paul Gaudette architects; Northwind Architects of Juneau; and CBC Construction, roof contractors.

Clayton said the project has gone well. The building is free of lead-based paint, the windows are installed and crews even got good weather to put on the new roof. Although, Clayton said, the process might not have been as smooth for the staff as it was for him.

“I think it went great. My experience with construction projects is long — I’ve got about 40 years in the business — so I thought it went well other than it was hard on the inhabitants,” he said.

Because of the lead paint removal, the building had to be wrapped in plastic, which meant Busch and the science center staff spent the summer looking out the window at industrial-grade plastic.

“That was tough. Yeah, not seeing daylight,” Busch said.

“You wouldn’t believe how much you count on seeing something out your window,” Clayton quipped. “I didn’t have to deal with it. I just came here periodically and it was horrible. I thought, I need to get out of here. I’d pat Lisa on the back and leave.”

Busch, borrowing a line from science center aquaculture director Lon Garrison, said getting the plastic off last week was akin to a creature shedding its skin.

The project got funding from a host of donors and organizations including the Rasmuson Foundation, Douglas Island Pink and Chum, the Murdoch trust as well as from the state Legislature and a loan from the state fisheries enhancement fund.

Busch said once she started pitching the project to companies that specialize in restoring concrete buildings, they got excited about being a part of the project. She got in touch with F.D. Thomas Inc., which specializes in waterproofing, coatings and concrete work, and has an office in Tacoma.

“That’s what they do all over the country. They’re working on the Capitol in Washington, D.C.,” Busch said.

“We got what we wanted. We had expert teams on both sides working on architecture and then guys who work with the hands-on stuff,” Clayton added.

The science center is just the latest chapter in a long teaching history for the Sage Building, Busch said. Restoration work on the building will eventually move inside in an effort to get the building in shape for another 85 years of educating.

“This building was built for $50,000 in 1929,” Busch said, in the hope of “training people in vocational skills that were going to be useful to the community (and) useful to the territory.

“Jump ahead, in the 1970s, the college got the bug for hatcheries and the state was interested in getting hatcheries going in Southeast Alaska. They set up this hatchery, we’re one of the first in the state of Alaska, we’re permit number three, and then they brought in these young people to train them to be hatchery managers,” Busch said. “In the next 20 or 30 years Sheldon Jackson was training people to be useful to the State of Alaska.”

Now the science center is hosting researchers, teaching hatchery techniques and working to further science education in Sitka and Southeast.

“We did this project so that we could better deliver our mission,” Busch said. “That’s the number one thing, it’s not just about a beautiful building, it’s about delivering our mission.”

The full scope of the resoration will eventually include upgrades to the interior as well as the adjacent Mill Building. The new roof and new windows means the building is better insulated and the staff can take down some of the ceiling decor.

“We have these tarps … that catch the rain when the roof leaks and that’s all coming down this week. That’s huge,” Busch said.

Eventually the interior will be insulated and the mechanical systems will be replaced and upgraded. One day, Busch would like the science center to draw all its heat from the ocean via a salt-water heat pump. The building already has pumps installed to bring in sea water for the hatchery and aquariums, which could be a start for running a heat pump with the same system. The Sea Life Center in Seward is already heated with a heat pump, and Busch said she’d like the science center to follow suit.

“We want to have a salt-water heat pump heat this building. We think that is going to make a huge difference to this building and also act as a demonstration to the community,” she said.

For now, the science center will debut their new veneer. And while nothing has changed with the building’s staff, Busch said it’s nice to have a cover that more closely matches the contents of the book.

“I think that new skin idea is part of the impetus for this project. Even though your mother says what’s inside is what’s most important, I think it does make an impression,” Busch said. “When people see a nice building on the outside it does make it a more attractive place for researchers and education programs.”

Article reprinted by permission of the Daily Journal of Commerce (www.djc.com)