Council looks at white house

Kenai Watershed Forum shares ideas to remodel unused building

Posted: Friday, September 14, 2007

The white house may soon be clad in hues of cedar the Soldotna white house that is, not the one in Washington.

That was the image portrayed by Kenai Watershed Forum Executive Director Robert Ruffner on Wednesday during a presentation to the Soldotna City Council on a proposal to move his organization's headquarters into the Soldotna Creek Park residence.

Known as the white house, the building was originally deeded to the city from the state Department of Transportation in the 1970s after serving as housing and the headquarters for DOT in Soldotna. It has been unoccupied for two years.

"The city has no suitable use for it," City Manager Tom Boedeker said earlier. "The watershed forum seems to be a compatible use."

Ruffner told council members the white house "is in a location that's ideal for us."

Every year, the forum takes grade school and high school students to Soldotna Creek Park to participate in education programs involving the Kenai River and riparian habitat.

"We have probably taken hundreds, maybe a thousand kids to that exact spot over the years," Ruffner said.

City administration has recommended leasing the building to the watershed forum in exchange for the forum making capital improvements to the 50-year-old building.

"To convert it into an office is a major undertaking maybe $200,000 to $250,000," said Ruffner.

He showed the council some architectural renderings of what the building would look like following renovation, with a wide open floor plan inside and cedar siding outside.

"It all looks great from our perspective," he said.

Ruffner said the watershed forum would like the city to think about lease terms, possibly up to 30 years, and Councilman Scott McLane, presiding over the council in Mayor Dave Carey's absence, said the city "looks forward to further discussions" with the forum.

In other business, the council was asked to determine how large an area it would like to apply to annex along Kalifornsky Beach Road near Skyline Drive.

Originally, the suggested annexation area extended only to Frances Helen Avenue, but Boedeker said that would cut a subdivision in half leaving part outside the city limits and taking one part into the city.

The council reviewed a memorandum from Leila Kimbrell, special projects and research assistant to the city manager, which contained options including expanding the annexation boundary to Tagala and Highcrest avenues, which would bring the entire subdivision into the city.

Boedeker said he would like to have a decision from the council by the end of September so the city could begin the application process with the state's Local Boundary Commission. He has said the annexation process takes up to two years.

The council also unanimously authorized awarding a $279,650 engineering services contract to Wince-Corthell-Bryson for the 2007 airport improvement project.

The project includes adding a gravel runway and safety areas, installing new gates and storm drains and re-seeding grassy areas at the airport. Wince-Corthell-Bryson is to handle engineering during the bidding and construction phases of the project.

During a public comment portion of the council meeting, Bill Wirin asked the council to consider appointing a small group of residents to determine a vision for Soldotna.

He asked if the city leaders want Soldotna to be a central shopping mall, a retirement community, a bedroom community, the sportfishing capital of Alaska or a tourist destination.

Differentiating a vision from a comprehensive plan, Wirin said the plan "is a way of implementing the vision."

"Don't put it on the city manager. Have a group of citizens," Wirin said.

Councilman Shane Horan said he and Councilman Ed Sleater attended a meeting of the Kenai River Working Group, which plans to present a joint resolution to the Alaska Board of Fish asking that two-stroke outboard engines that are not fuel-injected be banned from the river above the Warren Ames Bridge in Kenai during the month of July to curb hydrocarbon pollution.

A proposed resolution will be brought to the council for approval prior to submission to the board.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at

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