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Old gas station renovated for excursion facilities

Posted: September 1, 2011 - 11:10pm
Mike Gaede, Facilities Manager for Alaska Icefield Expeditions, remodels a kitchen for their new Juneau base of operations at the former gas station near Walmart on Thursday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Mike Gaede, Facilities Manager for Alaska Icefield Expeditions, remodels a kitchen for their new Juneau base of operations at the former gas station near Walmart on Thursday.

The former gas station by Walmart won’t stay empty long. Some tour and expedition businesses are working together to make it their home.

Northern Safety Operations, Alaska Icefield Expeditions and IditaGrow will have offices, transitory housing and training facilities there. Renovation of the 5,300-square-foot building is underway with creating full living spaces, kitchen and offices.

Northern Safety Operations Executive Director Joel Probst said it feels good to turn the empty station, which he called an eyesore, into something useful.

The companies that will use the facility specialize in outdoor excursions, particularly during the tour season.

Probst said the idea is to house field teams during the season for a few days a week while they’re not on the glacier.

Courses such as medical and wilderness emergency training, including qualification strategies for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, will take up a lot of the building’s operations during the winter.

He said the ice facilities that are slung by helicopter will also be stored here during the off-season. Besides this, the companies will have corporate offices there.

“We’re capitalizing on every aspect we can to make it a more thorough process,” said Probst.

He said the idea behind companies like these is to build up so they can deliver the Alaskan experience that visitors expect, rather than just shopping and restaurants.

“It’s important to take care of the people that come back year after year, especially in the tour season,” he said.

Probst said it will also encourage locals to get more interested in Alaskan culture and provide practical employment and experience.

He said he hopes it will also encourage younger Alaskans to run their own businesses some day.

The gas station has housed a number of other businesses throughout the years, including a pizza place, a used car dealership and a laser tag arena.

Probst said the first course will be in October. It will be a wilderness emergency medical technician program.

“The first class in October will be used to steer the direction because right now it’s a blank slate,” he said.

In the meantime, the companies will be finishing up the construction and the inspections, which Alaska Icefield Expeditions Facilities Manager Mike Gaede said can be extensive with the extra work required for turning a retail operation into a residential one.

“It’s turned from a simple project to a really complicated project,” said Gaede.

Probst said a lot of the work this first winter will be toward getting everything online getting set up.

He said the idea is also to have a boot camp there ready to go in the spring.

The new tenants have a five-year lease for the building.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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