Sheldon Jackson College given new life

Sitka campus is being restored by arts organization
Sam Skaggs, chairman of finance for Alaska Arts Southeast, Inc., spoke at the Juneau Rotary Club's Tuesday meeting on the arts organization's purchase and restoration of the historic Sheldon Jackson College campus in Sitka.

The historic Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka was forced to close its doors and dismiss its educators in 2007, after years of financial woes. But, in 2011, Alaska Arts Southeast, Inc., which has run the Sitka Fine Arts Camp at the college since 1973, purchased the 20-acre campus to breathe new life into the shuttered buildings.

Sam Skaggs, Alaska Arts Southeast chairman of finance, spoke to the Rotary Club of Juneau at its Tuesday meeting about his organization’s efforts to revitalize the campus and bring more stakeholders into the picture.

“We said we were absolutely crazy to take this project on,” he said of the initial idea to purchase the buildings. “About a week later we said, ‘Yeah.’”

Since the organization was “given the keys” in February 2011, 700 volunteers have donated 30,000 hours to restore the campus. They worked so hard, in fact, that campers were able to return to Sheldon Jackson College that June for the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, Skaggs said. This year’s camp brought in 720 young people from all over the world, including 38 Alaska communities.

“The community is rising up and saving this resource,” he said.

Volunteers so far have rebuilt six roofs on campus, he said, and most of the college’s roofs are now secure. According to the camp website, volunteers are currently working on a multi-year restoration of Allen Hall, built in 1911. In 2001, the building was designated a historic landmark, according to the site.

Over the past two years, Alaska Arts Southeast has brought in $2.4 million to fix up the 20 campus buildings, Skaggs said. That includes a recent Rasmussen Foundation grant, but, so far, no state funding, Skaggs said. One way the organization brings in money is renting out the campus to organizations for functions large and small.

Skaggs said construction is wrapping up for the season but those who wish to volunteer or donate money can visit fineartscamp.org. Starting up again in May, 100-person work parties will take place at the campus every Saturday, Skaggs said.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” he said.

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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