SITKA — The trustees of Sheldon Jackson College, which closed amidst financial troubles in the summer of 2007, signed over the school’s archives to the state of Alaska Tuesday.
With members of the local media on hand for the small ceremony at Stratton Library, SJC Executive Manager John Holst, and Bob Banghart, chief curator of the state museum system, signed a document formalizing the transfer of a trove of school documents and historical items to the state Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums.
The archives include student records dating to back to 1917, a plaque listing members of the school’s basketball hall of fame, and artifacts like a desk once owned by the Rev. Sheldon Jackson.
Holst said the trustees were intent on keeping the items in Sitka and that giving them to the state for safekeeping was the “best possible outcome.”
“We’re very confident they’ll do the right thing with them,” Holst said.
Banghart, who is currently acting deputy director of the Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums, said the SJC archives are an important part of the history of Sitka and the state, and he hopes to make the items available to the public.
He said preserving the records is essential to “maintaining the legacy of the institution,” which he noted produced many Native leaders.
The acquisition of the SJC archives is part of the state’s larger plan for Stratton, Banghart said.
The state wants to build a “collections vault” on the second-floor of Stratton that will be used to supplement the Sheldon Jackson Museum, which has been part of the state museum system since the early 1980s, Banghart said.
He said the new facility will be used to store items and will free up space for new exhibitions at the Sheldon Jackson Museum.
Banghart said he wasn’t sure how the first floor of Stratton would be used, but he’s interested in creating a space that could be part of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp’s ongoing effort to revitalize the historic campus.
The state formalized the purchase of Stratton Library, a 1970s-era SJC building, in December 2010, with plans to incorporate the building into the state museum system.
And during the legislative session in 2011, lawmakers approved a $900,000 appropriation to help the Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums renovate the building. The money was originally intended to be used for a new roof and siding, but Banghart said Tuesday those plans had changed slightly. Some of the money will now be used to develop a master plan for the “repurposing” of the building, he said.
He said the project could take five years to complete, even operating under an optimistic time frame. He said he did not have a good idea what the project would cost, but said it could be in the area of $3-5 million.
“That’s just shooting from the hip,” Banghart said.
Two months after the state took over Stratton, Banghart held a public meeting at the Sheldon Jackson Museum and told the 50 or so in attendance that he wanted community input on what to do with the SJC archives that remained on campus. After the SJC trustees met on campus last March, they appointed a five-member “legacy committee” to work with the state to develop the agreement that was approved Tuesday.
Holst said that some SJC records were sent to Juneau for safekeeping within six months of the school shutting its doors. But many other records remained in scattered locations around SJC’s central Sitka campus. Holst said he went through the items and disposed of some, such as confidential personnel files and student records with social security numbers.
The rest of the items were consolidated in Stratton’s second floor seminar room. Banghart and Holst led reporters on a tour of the room Tuesday, showing off portraits of Sheldon Jackson and territorial Gov. John Brady and a mammoth tusk found in Kotzebue Sound that was presented to the school as a gift. An intern working for the state spent two months in the seminar room this summer and created a 226-page inventory of what’s there.
“This gives us an idea of what we’re dealing with,” Banghart said.
During the recent cold snap, a pipe broke in Stratton, but Banghart and Holst said the incident caused no permanent damage. The water has since been shut off at Stratton. In the face of high oil bills, Banghart also made the decision to stop heating the building.
The building still needs deferred maintenance, but Banghart said he was not concerned about using some of the money for the roof project to develop design documents.
Back in early 2011, when Banghart visited Sitka, he offered his long-term view for Stratton. He said he wanted to create a museology program that would bring students to Sitka to work at a two-building “integrated campus” featuring Stratton and Sheldon Jackson Museum. Banghart reiterated that plan Tuesday.
The state is moving forward with the construction of a massive $127 million project in Juneau that will bring the Division of Archives, Libraries and Museums under one roof. Construction on the project could start as soon as this spring.
Banghart said the new Sitka facility could serve as a “incubator for how the new system will work.”
He said he’d like to have master plan for Stratton, with drawings by architects and engineers, in place by the end of 2012.