KENAI — On the top floor of the Columbia Wards Fisheries Warehouse at Kenai Landing is an 85-year-old signature. The bold black letters marked on the building’s interior metal paneling read, “F.N., from Luzon, City of Manila, 1927.”
A former cannery worker likely left this signature, and he wasn’t the only one. Names and dates crowd the warehouse’s structural beams on its top floor.
The wooden warehouse erected nearly a century ago is being deconstructed; its materials sold off to interested parties. Many people buying the high-quality old growth Douglas fir, which was used to construct the warehouse, are former workers, said Steve Agni, Kenai Landing, Inc.’s project manager.
Deconstruction of the building is about halfway complete. The wood is being used in meaningful ways, with a large portion remaining on the Kenai Peninsula due to a purchase from the Kenaitze Indian Tribe.
The project management team started deconstructing the warehouse in June. The 40,000-square-foot building sat empty for the past two years, as economic and safety constraints stifled its use.
Deconstruction rather than demolishing old buildings is encouraged by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Most of the materials will be recycled, Agni said.
The two-story warehouse was built in 1922 after a fire burned the original structure. It once served as the primary warehouse for Southcentral Alaska’s largest cannery. A total of 12 original Columbia Wards Fisheries wood structures remain at Kenai Landing. All buildings except the warehouse will remain intact.
KLI hired Kenai-based Triangle Recycling to deconstruct the warehouse in a manner that maximizes preserving materials for reuse, according to a press release.
The process started with the roof. The workers are taking the building apart board by board. And the materials go from larger, stout pieces of wood on the bottom floor to smaller, thinner pieces toward the top, Agni said.
“Kind of like the way a tree grows, that’s the way the warehouse was built,” he said.
About 50 percent of the work is done, he said, even though the roof is the only portion of the building that’s removed. Taking apart the smaller pieces that made up the roof was labor intensive. The rest of the job will go faster, weather permitting.
Half of the building’s old growth fir is committed to large orders. A number of private parties bought large amounts of the wood to use in cabin construction. One such person, Agni said, works in tourism, and plans to build a headquarters for his business.
The Kenai Historic Society bought a portion of wood for a project, according to the press release.
The Kenaitze Indian Tribe agreed to a sizeable order, too. They plan to use the wood in the construction of the Dena’ina Wellness Center at Old Town Kenai. It broke ground for the health center on Aug. 3.
The tribe learned about the availability of the fir while trying to find space for an unrelated employee training session. KLI offered to hold items important to the tribe, and during a subsequent walk through of the warehouse, tribe members made some interesting discoveries, said Jaylene Peterson-Nyre, the tribe’s executive director. This was somewhat expected.
“There’s probably not a single tribal family who hasn’t been employed (at the cannery) going back to its beginnings,” Peterson-Nyre said. “So, there’s a lot of history there.
“We walked through the top floor and looked at the rafters, because a lot of people had signed their names, and we saw tribal members’ names everywhere.”
The opportunity to buy the materials for the health center came at an optimal time during the development phase, and the center’s architects easily incorporated the wood. The fir will be used for the center’s trim and flooring. It also will be visible in the ceiling of the center’s entryway.
Peterson-Nyre said she heard other comments from the community; people shared a concern that the warehouse’s history would disappear with its materials. The health center will keep that history intact.
The tribe bought a total of 66,000 linear board feet, she said.
Residents bought one or two boards as mementoes, Agni said. They were once workers at the cannery or had an interest in local history. Also, people were interested in the warehouse’s windows, which contain minute flaws common in older glass.
The deconstruction is slated for completion by Oct. 5, Agni said.