KENAI (AP) -- Construction crews are hard at work in Homer hoping to enclose the wood and steel framework of the new Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center before winter sets in.
The project is running fairly smoothly, though behind schedule by about three weeks.
Project Manager Don Marlatt said the aim is to have the framework essentially enclosed by the end of November with roofing and glasswork scheduled as well.
''That should be completed in December,'' he told the Peninsula Clarion.
Once the building is sealed, work on the interior can begin in earnest, he said. Expectations are that the project will be completed on schedule early next fall.
Work began on the 37,000-square-foot center in May.
The complex covers a large portion of 60 acres along the Sterling Highway in the heart of Homer. When it opens, the facility is expected to become a first-class educational and research center, as well as a major tourist attraction that Homer hopes will rival Seward's Alaska SeaLife Center and the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai.
RIM Architects of Anchorage designed the center. The construction job went to Jay-Brant General Contractors of Homer. The $14.4 million federally funded project has been doubly beneficial to the local economy because the prime contractor and many of the subcontractors are based in Homer or other Alaska communities.
The structure will include a visitors' center, an auditorium, classrooms, educational and research laboratories and offices for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, the two agencies that will share the facility.
''It's really fun to see things come together,'' reserve manager Glenn Seaman said. ''And as the building comes together, it emphasizes the urgency of us putting programs together to utilize the facility and meet our respective agency missions.''
The reserve's education staff is designing those programs now.
Once the refuge and reserve agencies are in the building sometime next fall, it may still take a few months to be comfortably settled in.
''We should really get rolling the next spring (2004), in time for the annual surge of students and the summer visitors,'' he said.
Other agencies, organizations and educational facilities in Homer eventually will be linked to the services offered at the center.
Among other things, kiosks will alert visitors to the full spectrum of educational opportunities elsewhere in the city, such as the Pratt Museum and schools, with which both agencies hope to work collaboratively.
Funding for the project was appropriated through federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA and the U.S. Federal Highway Administration.
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