It may be a stretch to say Bill Kluge is responsible for shaping the look of several communities on the Kenai Peninsula, but he certainly had a hand in designing their buildings. Kluge has designed more than 300 buildings in his 20 years as an architect in Kenai.
Some of his projects in Kenai include the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, the Kenai Health Building, the Tangent Building, the Kenai Dental Building, the Peninsula Ear Nose and Throat Clinic, the Kenai Animal Shelter and the Alaska Regional Fire Training Center. In Soldotna, Kluge designed the Peninsula Internal Medicine building, the Soldotna Senior Center, the Soldotna Arby's, the rebuild of the Anchor Plaza, the Tides Inn and the Soldotna Public Library.
He also designed the West Homer Elementary School and several fire stations on the peninsula. Current projects for Kluge include designing an addition to the Kenai Community Library and an addition to the gym in Nikolaevsk.
Kluge moved to Kenai in 1981. His first job in the area was as project architect for the remodel of the Kenai Municipal Airport in 1982. He started his architecture business, Kluge and Associates, in 1984, and it took awhile to get off the ground.
"It was a struggle back then," Kluge said. "There were no retail stores, and there wasn't the population we now have, so it was a struggle for the first four to five years to make ends meet."
Kluge is originally from Texas. He is the son of a general contractor, A. W. Kluge, who played an instrumental role in Kluge becoming an architect, he said. Kluge worked in Austin, Texas, for several years as a licensed architect. In 1981 he decided to visit some college roommates in Alaska. At the end of his two-week fishing trip on the Kenai Peninsula, he called the architect he was working for in Texas, quit his job and has been here ever since.
After the slow start in Alaska, business picked up for Kluge and has remained steady since.
"I've been very fortunate," Kluge said. "Through the downturn of the economy in 1986 my business has grown a little every year."
Kluge is taking a wait-and-see approach before predicting how the current downturn in the nation's economy will affect Alaska and his business.
"We've been through lean times before," Kluge said. "And Alaska doesn't always follow the Lower 48. When they're slowing down we're picking up and vice versa. But I'm disappointed that ANWR and the pipeline look like they're dead in the water right now."
Kluge tries to give his best to every project he takes on, he said. His favorite types of buildings to design are community and public works projects because the higher level of funding allows a higher level of quality and more creativity, he said, although funding for projects in Alaska tends to be limited because the construction costs are higher.
"What I like doing is producing as aesthetically pleasing a building as possible with a limited amount of funds," Kluge said. "It can be quite an assignment in Alaska with the cost of construction."
The Peninsula Ear Nose and Throat Clinic was one of Kluge's favorites, as was the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.
"I like that one in particular because I liked the spaces within the building," he said. "I was trying to reflect the mountains around the building, and I think I accomplished that. It's a very nice and economical building, and it has held up well for 10 years old."
Kluge's business has spread past the peninsula in recent years. He worked on combination aircraft rescue and fire training facilities in Kotzebue and Nome, and in 2000 he became registered as an architect in California and worked on a Western Regional Aircraft Fire Training Center in San Bernardino.
"It was a good experience to go through the registration process down there and a good experience to go through the construction process because it's really mind-boggling," he said. "It's a different world down there."
California is very environmentally conscious, he said, with an extensive review process. In California, any architectural plans have to be approved page by page by the state architect's office. Architects here just need to gain approval from the fire marshal's office, Kluge said.
But despite these differences, Kluge found the business of architecture in Alaska wasn't much different from California.
"The state of Alaska, as far as the architecture profession goes, is up to speed with California," Kluge said. "The computer-aided design system we employ up here and some of the methods are ahead of some of the offices in California."
Designing area buildings creates a sense of propriety toward his community for Kluge, and he has long been active in the community in other ways. He has served as president of the board of directors of the Kenai Rotary Club, Kenai Chamber of Commerce and the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula.
"To see a bare piece of ground produce a building gives me an opportunity to try and do something better for the community than what we have had in the past," Kluge said. "I look forward to the day when my son's sons can come back and see what grandfather did in the community."
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