Gift helps watershed forum: $7,000 to go toward White House renovation

Posted: Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Kenai Watershed Forum recently got a little financial assistance for their capital building campaign to renovate a historic building in downtown Soldotna that will soon become its new headquarters.

Chevron Environmental Management Company presented the forum with a check for $7,000 for the project last week.

"We've worked with them on Caring for the Kenai, and we've had a good partnership for many years, but this is a welcome surprise," said Josselyn O'Connor, KWF project director.

The building to be renovated is the historic "White House," built in 1955 by the Territorial Alaska Road Commission. Ralph Soberg, Alaska Road Commission general foreman responsible for peninsula road development in the 1940s and 1950s, occupied the 2,300-square-foot house with his family from 1955 to 1959, according to O'Connor.

In 1980, the state deeded to Soldotna the 15 acres including the White House. Over the years, park attendants and city employees occupied the house until early in 2009 when the Kenai Watershed Forum negotiated a 30-year lease for the building with the city.

"It's located at the confluence of Soldotna Creek and the Kenai River," O'Connor said. She said this location will greatly enhance the KWF educational and research opportunities, compared to traveling form their old headquarters in the Blazy Mall.

"We frequently take students to the confluence, so now we'll be able to do education on-site," she said.

The forum is also hoping to have a water-quality lab incorporated into the basement of the building during the renovation work.

"This will allow us to perform right here things we've had to send out to other labs," she said.

O'Connor said the Forum is also preparing to register the renovation project for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. This Green Building Rating System, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, provides a set of standards for environmentally sustainable construction.

"We're going to try and get the building as green as we can get it," O'Connor said. "There are only seven certified LEED buildings in the state, and only one of those -- the Homer Library -- is on the Kenai Peninsula, so to have one here in the central peninsula will be a great example for others in the area who want to do the same type of building."

The estimated cost of the renovation project is roughly $400,000, of which $60,000 has already been secured, according to O'Connor. Corporate sponsorship and fundraising efforts are ongoing.

"We're getting there. We hope to break ground on the project in spring of 2010, and then be in there within the year, which is a very realistic goal," she said.

To learn more about the Kenai Watershed Forum, visit their Web site at www.kenaiwatershed.org.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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