The first few shovel-fulls dug from of the State Library Archive Museum project were placed in a box inside the State Museum. Not to preserve for posterity — though they may be — but to bid adieu to the rain outside and break ground under the warm lights and artifacts of Juneau’s and the state’s Willoughby icon.
Dozens of spectators listened to a line-up of dignitaries give their blessings to the project. Mayor Merrill Sanford, Transportation Commissioner Pat Kemp, Education Commissioner Mike Hanley and Ron Inouye of the Alaska Historical Society spoke at the event.
Phyllis DeMuth represented the 1967 Committee that built the current museum to break official ground for the new library, archive and museum. She was joined at the handled of the gold shovel by Inouye.
Although founded in 1900, the state museum and archive did not find a home for public viewing until 1920 when it moved into Juneau’s Arctic Brotherhood Building. The current building was funded with a local 1 percent sales tax in 1967 in honor of the 100-year anniversary of Alaska’s purchase from Russia.
“It really isn’t about a building,” Mike Hanley commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development said. “It is about a our heritage. It’s about preservation. It’s about being about to share that with not just our generation but generations to come.”
The new SLAM building will double the museum exhibition space and triple the collection storage of the state’s current facility, Hanley said — all while using no more energy, he said.
Hanley said the new facility is “a huge building that can operate at the same operating costs as we have now.”
Plans for the building show 118,000 square feet of new construction with more than 90 parking spaces, 61 of which are located in the facility’s basement.
“The way things are moving,” Hanley said, “I look forward to having the opportunity to do this next year when we have something to see.”
During much of the lead-up to the groundbreaking project, designers believed they would have to order certain window treatments from overseas, Kemp said. He announced at the ceremony that the contract was awarded to Bucher Glass from Fairbanks. The company is opening a new facility with 16-20 employees to handle the order, he said.
Recently-appointed Commissioner of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Kemp spoke on behalf of his agency, a stakeholder in SLAM.
DOT worked closely with the Department of Education, governor’s office, Alaska legislators and others to bring the project to this stage, Kemp said.
The state has already secured a contractor under a new type of contract called COGC, Kemp said. He said PCL Constructors Inc. of Anchorage has been brought on board build it.
Kemp said the project enjoys broad support.
“The governor fully supports the project, the Legislature supports the project,” Kemp said. “I hope we’ll be turning on the light for the public in a few years.”
Sen. Dennis Egan was in attendance. He said he was impressed with the celebration’s turnout and said Juneau and the state should be proud of the project.
“It is a facility we can all treasure,” Egan said.
Mayor Sanford reminisced some during his address to the crowd about the time he’s spent in the state library over the last four decades. However, during an interview after the ceremony, Sanford let his mind go way back.
It is important for us to be doing this and preserving this. Had Juneau started preserving its history early on, Sanford said, “we could have had a whole mine up on the hillside that could have been a tourist attraction let alone our own attraction. We could have saved more stuff than what we have today and appreciated what our ancestors did for us.”
The museum, library and archive will be a place where researchers and students can learn about the “quilted blanket” of the state’s past all under one roof, Sanford said.
Construction is ongoing.
Recently, Goldbelt Corporation’s waterfront lot has recently become home to contractor facilities and an excavator has made Gold Creek safer for pedestrians with culverts and ground cover at the SLAM site.
Friends of the Alaska Museum hosted the event.
For more information visit www.museums.alaska.gov/lam/slam.html
• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.