Construction moves forward on new refuge visitors center

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Construction at the new Kenai Visitors Center is moving forward with a new opening date pushed back until late December of this year, or early January of 2015, Friday, September 3, 2014, at the Kenai Wildlife Refuge in Soldotna, Alaska.

Construction is still moving forward at the new $6 million Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center in Soldotna, with a new opening date projected for after January 1, 2015. The opening has been pushed back after some small setbacks, said Refuge Manager Andy Loranger.


Originally the plan was to open the doors to the public in late September or early October, Loranger said. Ideally it would be open for the holidays, but it is uncertain if that will be a possibility at this point, he said.

Within the last month the custom made, triple-pane windows for the new building missed their barge, which, set back construction, said Visitor Services Park Ranger Leah Eskelin.

The windows are essential not only for visitors and staff in the extreme low temperatures that can be experienced on the Kenai Peninsula during the winter, but for the construction itself, Eskelin said.

“Because this building is being built to LEED Silver standards, great care has been given to the materials used,” Eskelin said. “They include a green roof planted with native grasses, bioswale to manage parking lot rain runoff, and American-made masonry wood-fired heater.”

Right now paint is on the walls, and the divider separating the theater and the visitors’ area is built, Eskelin said. Once the interior is finished, the graphics, which are currently under review, and displays created by Minnesota-based Split Rock Studios, which makes interpretive exhibits, will be installed in the 1,800-square-foot exhibit hall space.

The enlarged exhibit space will illustrate information “from ice field to ocean,” Eskelin said. “It is a breath of the diversity of the refuge’s ecosystems.”

The new 80-person capacity multi-purpose educational room will allow existing programs, such as the Junior Rangers Program, to grow, Eskelin said. The room will be able to facilitate larger group activities and extended labs, extending education that wasn’t previously possible at the current facility, she said.

While there will be some overlap during renovation on the current center and construction on the new center, most programs, indoor and outdoor, will not be affected or paused, Eskelin said.

In a previous Clarion article Loranger said the current center is 34 years old, and will be turned into offices for refuge employees.

Items from the existing exhibits will be taken down and moved into the new building, Eskelin said. The date is still uncertain, but there will be a point when the daily wildlife movies will not be shown for a short period of time, she said.

Eskelin said she will release an opening date as soon as they have the information.


Kelly Sullivan can be reached at


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