State Briefs

Posted: Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Straw bales make for high-tech insulation in Fairbanks home

FAIRBANKS - Gerald Goodman and Joan Lessard are building a home in the hills near Fairbanks using 750 straw bales to insulate its 2-foot-thick walls.

But the straw is not a sign of structural weakness. "I have steel connecting everything. It has every kind of seismic tie that you can have," Goodman said.

A longtime technical instructor, Goodman has spent many years planning and building his dream house. Others in the area have used straw construction, but Goodman has taken his plans to a higher level. Once completed, the house will serve as a research lab for future builders of straw-bale homes in Interior Alaska.

John Keys of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center plans to keep his eye on Goodman's progress. He started inspecting Goodman's home about a year and a half ago, just before the foundation was laid.

"I was very impressed with the structural drawings. It is very well-engineered and very well-built." he said.

To start building an Alaska straw-bale data bank, the CCARC is providing Goodman with sensors that are installed in the walls to measure heat and moisture, as well as monitoring equipment to track daily high and low temperatures outside, wind speeds and fuel consumption.

The home itself is a thoroughly modern dwelling. Goodman estimates the overall cost to build the house at $120 per square foot, not outside the range of what it could cost to build a similar size home with conventional methods.

"The house is a combination of the old and the new," Goodman said.

Bill to allow visually impaired people to vote unassisted

JUNEAU - Visually impaired people could be able to vote without assistance by the sighted under a bill introduced in the state Senate on Monday.

Senate Bill 258 would remove the requirement that ballots be printed on paper and allow the Division of Elections to purchase electronic, paperless balloting equipment.

Sen. Loren Leman, an Anchorage Republican and sponsor of the measure, said it would allow the visually impaired to vote privately. Visually impaired voters now must depend on a sighted person to read the ballot aloud and assist them in casting their vote, Leman said.

A similar measure sponsored by Rep. Joe Green, an Anchorage Republican, was introduced in the House. It is House Bill 320.

Hospital may build $25 million psychiatric facility in Anchorage

ANCHORAGE - Providence Alaska Medical Center wants to build a $25 million, 60-bed psychiatric facility in Anchorage, and has asked the state for approval to go ahead with the project.

The project, which could be completed in 2004, would be geared toward serving children 12 and younger, said Susan Humphrey-Barnett, assistant administrator. Providence is certified by the state for 345 patient beds. The new certification would increase that total to 405 beds.

The new facility would be built off campus. That would allow Providence to convert its existing 27 mental health services beds to medical/surgical beds, thereby decreasing the need to divert some emergency patients to other facilities when rooms aren't available, Humphrey-Barnett told the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

Planning for the facility began several years ago. Last summer, Providence submitted to the state a certificate of need application.

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