Eaglecrest Learning Center construction tentatively set for 2014, could open that year

The Eaglecrest Learning Center, a planned building that would house a “learning school” for aspiring skiers and snowboarders next to the Eaglecrest Lodge, could open during the winter season of 2014-15, General Manager Matt Lillard told the Eaglecrest board of directors’ Planning Committee Thursday evening.

Lillard presented a set of preliminary dates, which he said was provided by Engineering Director Rorie Watt, penciling out the process for the Learning Center.

Next year is set to be used for planning and design of the facility, according to the preliminary dates. The project would then go out to bid in January 2014, with construction beginning in the spring and ending by about January 2015.

“I would hope it would be done by opening, December 2014,” Lillard added.

After sharing the dates with the committee members, Lillard said, “That’s the general timeline right now, and it leaves us a lot of time to plan, figure out exactly how the building lays itself out, and what it looks like, and what sort of energy-efficiency items we want to look after, and other things that will go in there.”

Carlton Heine said he wants to be sure the Learning Center will be a profitable proposition.

“As a general statement, I’d like to kind of make sure that we are looking at the characteristics of the building such that it enhances revenue with minimal increase (in) long-term operational costs,” said Heine.

The Learning Center provides space for the consolidation of ticket windows and other staff-intensive parts of the ski area, Lillard responded.

“That’s one of the key things that is so great about this building and what it can house is that it actually does, as it’s proposed, currently even, it creates efficiencies in how we operate,” said Lillard.

David Audet, participating telephonically, asked, “Is there time, room or need, or (is it) a completely silly idea, to have any public input on maybe what some of the things this building should be used for?”

“We generally know what it should house,” Lillard responded. “There’s only so many facilities that we have at Eaglecrest, and I think we probably stand a better chance of what should go in there rather than the general public. We could probably go out and get some feedback. I don’t know how valuable it would be.”

According to Lillard, the Learning Center will be a city project. Eaglecrest is an enterprise fund of the city government.

“This will be a city-engineered project, and … they will be assisting us through the process,” Lillard told the committee. “They will be assigning us … a project manager in the fairly near future.”

Lillard added, “The good news is that most of the engineers are skiers as well, so I’m sure we’ll get someone who understands what we’re trying to do.”

The passage of Ballot Proposition 1, authorizing a $25 million general obligation bond issue, in the Oct. 2 municipal election will fund the Learning Center project, with $3.5 million marked for it.

Ahead of the meeting, Lillard said that the ski area’s three snowmaking guns started running late Thursday afternoon.

Eaglecrest uses snowmaking guns, which combine air and water to create snow, to fill in “holes and gaps” on the grounds to ensure more even snow distribution, Lillard said.

“It’s not a system, in its current capacity, that can open any terrain from top to bottom, but it does assist us in getting open earlier,” Lillard explained.

This year, Eaglecrest’s snow guns are all running off Juneau’s electric power grid. None are using diesel fuel, as they have done in the past.

“Before the mountain had electric power, it was always just diesel generators,” said Lillard.

Eaglecrest is still aiming for an early December opening, Lillard added.

“We’re still looking at Dec. 1,” Lillard said. “We’ll hope for more snow earlier.”

Lillard said snowmaking is expected to last until Sunday morning, though it depends on the temperature and humidity conditions at the ski area remaining favorable for snow production.

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

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