It’s been almost a decade in the making, but the Mt. Edgecumbe High School Aquatic Center in Sitka is under construction and scheduled for completion in December.
Anchorage-based Cornerstone General Contractors broke ground on the $26.9 million project in July 2016. That’s six years after funding was procured through two appropriations from the state when Alaskans voted to funnel state funds toward large construction projects in schools, libraries and research and learning institutions, according to Travis Miller, Department of Transportation & Public Facilities project manager.
State Sen. Bert Stedman, who represents Southeast Alaska, was instrumental in obtaining those funds and has supported the project throughout the state’s economic roller coaster.
“My staff and I have worked hard to get this project over every obstacle thrown our way and across the finish line,” Stedman said by email. “This pool has been stuck in the mud a couple of times, and we just kept prying it out, so I am very glad to see construction nearing completion.
“The biggest remaining hurdle is the operating costs,” Stedman said. “If it was in Anchorage, it would have been built very quickly after the bond package was approved in 2010. We’ll work through the operating cost issue and get this pool open for the kids.”
Miller said operating costs, estimated at $583,000 annually, are expected to be paid by the state and potential user fees.
Budget constraints dictated design changes.
The project was downsized from a 50-meter Olympic-size pool to an eight-lane 25-yard competition pool with an adjacent diving well, therapeutic/kiddie pool and seating for 300 spectators, Miller said.
“The diving well can be used to create a four-lane 25-meter race course,” Miller said. “The diving well will include two 3-meter diving boards, a drop slide, a climbing wall, a climbing rope and a winch for supporting cages used in deep water rescue training, including storage for the Alaska State Troopers and Coast Guard training gear.”
That’s great news for the 430 stu-dents at the 70-year-old boarding school, many of whom are Alaska Native youngsters who hail from small villages across the state where pool access is not available.
Mt. Edgecumbe School Director/Superintendent Janelle Vanasse said that students have been heavily involved in identifying their priorities for using the pool and providing input on planning.
“Instruction is our first priority. We hope to provide many students their first chance at swim lessons,” Vanasse said. “We also hope to host specialized trainings like cold water survival and lifeguard training. These have tremendous potential to impact not only our students but the communities they live in.”
“Additionally, the facility will serve as a training base for the Alaska State Troopers and U.S. Coast Guard,” Miller said. “The facility will provide a venue for both organizations to train their staff in a variety of swimming-related challenges: subduing suspects near/in water, deep water rescue and creating other water obstacles.”
Sitka’s public will also have access to the pool. A six-lane pool built in 1968 at Blatchley Middle School is currently the only pool available to residents of the coastal city.
As with many Alaska construction projects, the aquatic center was not without its unique challenges.
The 31,650-square-foot facility is near Mt. Edgecumbe High School on the site of an old 2 million-gallon fuel tank. Soil contaminated with petroleum, oil and lubricants became Cornerstone’s first obstacle to resolve.
“The original plan was to excavate a pit under the new parking lot area to accept approximately 1,500 cubic yards of contaminated fill encapsulated in a sealed liner similar to a giant burrito,” Cornerstone superintendent Keenan Quirk said.
But when the amount of petroleum, oil and lubricants fill material was found to be beyond expectations, Plan B went into effect.
“We prepared another site (Millerville) under the guidance from the environmental consultant Nortech,” Quirk said. “We cleared the land, installed berms around the perimeter of the new containment cell and lined it with multiple layers of fabric and reinforced poly so as to not contaminate the new holding area.”
Cornerstone project manager Jonathan Hornak described the biggest structural challenge as how to set in place two 106-foot-long beams that span the entire natatorium.
Originally the beams weighed 45,000 pounds apiece and would need a large crane brought in from Seattle or Anchorage to lift them, he said. With a little value engineering, the beams were redesigned down to 27,000 pounds each and a Grove RT750 crane was brought from Juneau, greatly reducing costs of erecting the building.
Being able to meet challenges head-on and come together to create solutions is what the Cornerstone team is most proud of.
Formed in 1993, “Cornerstone approaches all of our projects with intentions of developing the best team mentality that we can for every job,” Quirk said. “This approach to our work has produced great relationships with the companies we have worked with and even greater projects delivered.”
A member of the Associated General Contractors since it began operations, Cornerstone values the benefits it has received through connections to the contracting com-munity and various training offered through AGC, Quirk said.
Nancy Erickson is a freelance writer who lives in Moose Pass.