Deconstruction of Kenai Landing warehouse under way

A wooden warehouse erected nearly a century ago is being deconstructed due to multiple constraints that stifled its use.

 

The 40,000-square-foot Columbia Wards Fisheries warehouse located at Kenai Landing has sat empty for the past two years. Building codes, available funds and an inability to attract enough visitors prompted the facility's demise.


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Steve Agni, Kenai Landing Inc.'s deconstruction project manager, worked for seven years attempting to use the former cannery warehouse as an indoor marketplace, but current economics limited his efforts.

The indoor market required so many visitors, and its numbers improved for some time. The economic downturn of 2008-2009, however, coincided with a period in which the building needed more business to survive, Agni said in an email.

KLI, an Alaska corporation focused on historic restoration, experienced road blocks at every turn with several ideas. So, plans shifted from restoration to recycling. Residents and businesses can purchase the building's old growth Douglas fir as the materials become available.

The two-story structure was built in 1922 after a fire burned the original structure. It once served as the primary warehouse for Southcentral Alaska's largest cannery. There are no drawings to document its design, a key issue during the attempts for continued use.

A total of 12 original Columbia Wards Fisheries wood structures remain at Kenai Landing. Another small building called the "Carpenter's Shed" may be deconstructed this year while the rest will stay standing.

The warehouse couldn't meet current standards with its lack of modern services, like heat, running water and fire protection. KLI failed to gain historical recognition for the warehouse, which would've allowed the corporation to move forward using building codes that recognize special conditions.

A historic structure still must meet the intent of building occupancy codes. However, code allows for some flexibility in achieving that. Buildings' owners are responsible for implementing plans that meet the same levels of safety required by building codes and for following building code requirements, such as having improvements documented by licensed engineers and architects.

Usage became the main problem, Agni said.

Other ideas included using the building as a modern warehouse or a group event venue.

The wood structure is unable to handle floor loads and clearance requirements of modern-day warehouses. And KLI received demand for use of the building for group events, but such usage has strict safety requirements.

Several successful events with Central Peninsula Hospital and residents' weddings took place in the building during the past seven years.

"The city insisted that all improvements had to be documented by licensed architects and engineers, and that was not going to happen in an old building without legal protection as a historic structure," he said.

Kenai city officials said they worked with Kenai Landing Inc. to bring the building up to code incrementally. The city doesn't have any authority to designate a structure as historic; that program is handled by the U.S. Department of the Interior.


The National Register of Historic Places adds properties to its register based on specific criteria.

Some properties on the Kenai Peninsula, such as the Russian Orthodox Church in Old Town Kenai, are on the national register.

Agni said KLI did not attempt to list the warehouse on the national register.

KLI began its project in mid-June; it plans to complete the deconstruction by fall.

The warehouse contains more than 30,000 feet of old growth Douglas fir. The wood includes dimensional lumber, structural beams and planking, all useful in the construction of homes and small businesses.

The wood is dense, containing more fibers than other trees. About 175 to 250 years are required to develop old-growth forests under natural conditions, according to the Department of Agriculture.

"It's heartwood, seasoned and surprisingly void of checks and knots," Agni said in a press release.

He also said KLI remains flexible with the deconstruction timetable, depending on the level of interest and assistance locally.

"It's a big deal, and it's a responsibility we don't take lightly," Agni said. "We're looking for ways to support historic preservation and recycling."

Local historians and the Kenai Historical Society are working with KLI on optional recycling and preservation projects.

An idea being tossed around by the historians is preserving a portion of the warehouse so it remains visible to locals and visitors. KLI has also conducted many discussions on how to use the wood in new and restored buildings around the area.

Agni said he hopes the cost of deconstruction is recovered by the selling of the wood. Also, deconstruction rather than the demolishing of buildings is encouraged by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The first batch of wood from the warehouse -- beams, joists and floorboards -- will be available for inspection and purchase on July 13 and 14 at Kenai Landing from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Those interested in the wood should contact Steve Agni at akstevea@hotmail.com.

Reach Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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