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Centennial Hall renovations a small step toward a hoped-for overhaul

Posted: June 17, 2012 - 11:05pm
Lupe Toribio, left, Neal Nelson of Silverbow Construction remove and install new carpet on the track walls in the Sheffield Ballroom of Centennial Hall on Friday. The work is part of a $65,000 project to replace acoustical carpet and trim on both sides of the 38 track walls. Photo courtesy of Steven Pfister   Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Lupe Toribio, left, Neal Nelson of Silverbow Construction remove and install new carpet on the track walls in the Sheffield Ballroom of Centennial Hall on Friday. The work is part of a $65,000 project to replace acoustical carpet and trim on both sides of the 38 track walls. Photo courtesy of Steven Pfister

The consensus in Juneau seems to be that Centennial Hall, its largest and most prominent public venue, needs some serious updating.

With bathrooms too small to handle all its visitors, ADA-certified doors without operators to open them and a leaky hood vent in its kitchen to name just a few items facility manager Steven Pfister wants to address, restoring some 38 track walls is but a small step toward renovating the hall to modern standards.

Last Tuesday, Silverbow Construction began the $65,000 process of replacing the acoustical carpet and trim on the track walls dividing Centennial Hall’s three Sheffield Ballrooms.

“The old carpet … was falling off the walls,” said Pfister.

With the new carpet, he said, “it won’t look tattered.” He added, “We had all-plastic trim (on the track walls). They’ve replaced it with anodized aluminum — much stronger.”

Although he said the track wall renovations would improve the space aesthetically, Pfister said Centennial Hall has a lot more work that needs doing.

“Everything is old,” Pfister said. “The whole place needs help.”

Lorene Palmer, president and chief executive officer of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau, called on the Assembly Finance Committee earlier this year to invest in 17 projects at Centennial Hall.

That list of projects, which Pfister assembled and the Centennial Hall Users Group endorsed, carries an expected price tag of $3.72 million. The projects range from relatively minor — new wallpaper, new theatrical curtains and some repainting — to major overhauls, including the replacement of the hall’s roof, plumbing and exterior doors.

“We have a very vested interest in the hall’s upkeep,” said Palmer of her bureau, which is charged with promoting Juneau as a convention destination and ensuring Centennial Hall can compete with facilities elsewhere in the state.

In addition to the aesthetic alterations to the hall, Palmer said “there are some pretty significant structural things, like the roof and the plumbing, that need attention now.”

“It’s an old building, so it could certainly use a facelift,” said Larry Gamez, project manager at Silverbow Construction, of the hall. “It’s been used for many, many years, and it’s not quite tired yet, but … it could use a nice upgrade.”

Though it is hardly one of the oldest buildings in downtown Juneau, having been constructed in the 1980s, Centennial Hall sees heavy usage. During the past 12 months, it hosted about 350 events, Pfister said, including Celebration and the Alaska Folk Festival.

“Centennial Hall brings in millions of dollars,” said Pfister. “It’s the heart of the community. It’s not just a convention center, it’s a community center.”

Pfister said he hopes the Assembly will divert revenue from its five-year special 1 percent sales tax to help cover the costs of full renovation. But when asked how long it could take for the projects to get underway even if the funding is secured, he laughed and rubbed his eyes with his hands.

“I don’t know,” Pfister said. “The thing is, it could take a couple years.”

The 38 track walls’ bearings were replaced in 2008, and the acoustical carpet was set to be replaced in 2009, Pfister said, but the project was delayed. He said it took 15 months just for work to begin on replacing the carpet, owing to the bidding process the local government is obligated to use to hire contractors, delays in shipping the new trim from Seattle to Juneau and other obstacles.

“Things just take a long time,” said Pfister. “Logistically, being in Juneau — things are flown in or shipped in, and that takes time.”

Though the old carpet has been torn from the track walls, to be discarded or given away after the project’s completion, and many of the panels are bare as they await new carpeting, the Sheffield Ballrooms remain open for events.

The track door renovation should be finished up by June 26 at the latest, according to Gamez, though he said it could be done by as early as Friday.

“It’s pretty straightforward,” Gamez said.

Of course, if Pfister and Palmer’s wish list is approved, many of the hall’s renovations will be much more significant — and potentially disruptive — undertakings.

Pfister said that any major projects would have to be scheduled around prior commitments and bookings. He remarked, “Summer is best for us, because it’s our slowest time of year.”

• Contact reported Mark D. Miller at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com or at 523-2279.

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