Wrangell Sentinel -

By Dan Rudy 

Residential school big feature for Institute concepts


Submitted Illustration

In these two conceptual renderings for Wrangell's Institute site, options are given for how to allocate space at the 134-acre property between residential, educational, and healthcare interests. At right, Concept 2 garnered a slight edge among attendees to Monday's meeting. However, due to the lay of the land and existing timber roads, it may be the most difficult to implement.

The planning team for future development at Wrangell's former Institute site returned this week for a second round of public discussions.

At a presentation Monday night, information gleaned from previous sessions in March had been narrowed down into three different concepts.

Project lead Chris Mertl of Corvus Design was joined by architect James Bibb of NorthWind Architects and analyst Meilani Schijvens of Rain Coast Data. A surveyor with R&M Engineering joined them the following day for open door design sessions with city staff and members of the public.

Mertl prefaced Monday's presentation with his condolences for Greg Scheff and Tom Siekawitch, two R&M employees who had previously been working on the Institute project team. The two were among those killed in a plane crash on April 8 on Admiralty Island.

"It was a huge blow to the community, it was a huge blow to our team," Mertl said.

Since the March meetings, the team had pared down seven concepts put together by Scheff into three, which reflected input from the public. All three partitioned the 134-acre property into multiple uses, allowing for between 50 and 60 single family residential lots, connecting greenspace, different iterations of multifamily housing and assisted living arrangements, and some small retail options.

"We want a self-supportive, standalone community," Mertl explained, due to the site's relative distance from town. Just south from Shoemaker Bay Harbor along Zimovia Highway, the property is about five miles outside of town, hemmed in by Mental Health Trust lands to the south and east and Rainbow Falls trail to the north. It is hoped that residential developments there would compliment potential industrial development further down the highway at the Silver Bay Logging Company mill site.

Attendees to Monday's meeting gave recommendations on the site plans, and the development team met with city staff and other parties through Wednesday to develop a single model. A new facet to the Institute plans since they were first conceived was the inclusion of a site for Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program.

ANSEP founder Herb Schroeder was on hand to introduce the program, along with two associates video-conferring from Anchorage. The program began 21 years ago, and was developed to fill a need Schroeder perceived to train up engineers from among the Alaska Native population. The idea developed into a scholarship program through the university system at first, though Schroeder acknowledged there were negative attitudes to overcome.

"But we pushed forward and kept working," he said.

ANSEP started with middle schoolers, focusing on preparing rural, primarily Native students for engineering positions. It has since encompassed summer programs for high schoolers and college students, directing them toward mathematical and scientific fields. The program now has 67 organizational partners and operates on a $3,000,000 annual budget. It has around 2,000 students engaged statewide, from middle school through the postgraduate level.

The wider program has now reached its capacity, with more applicants than it can take on. Schroeder believes the next step is a residential campus, open to any student in the state, with an emphasis on rural youth. The campus he is proposing would accommodate 400 to 450 high school students year-round, in an accelerated learning environment.

The pace of the program could shave a year or more off from high school, with the college credits being earned in the meantime likewise shaving a year from undergraduate studies. Schroeder estimated that timeline could save the state and families $5.9 million for 400 students, while putting young professionals into the workforce more quickly.

"In our experience so far these kids are more than ready in three years," said Schroeder. From eighth grade onward, students in ANSEP are exposed to a college environment, which he said better prepares students for that transition than Alaska's current public school system.

If successful, he expressed confidence the residential model could be replicated elsewhere, raising the bar for secondary education in the state and benefitting college-bound students.

"The school here is like the tip of the spear," said Schroeder. "Once we do it then everybody's going to want to do this."

If built in Wrangell, the school would become a part of its public school district, managed by its board and funded through its individual student allocation from the state. The campus could require around 50 faculty and staff to manage, with some opportunities for local employment. As ANSEP would like to establish the campus as soon as possible, its inclusion in the Institute redevelopment could also help spur other construction.

Submitted Photo

Master Plan 3 of those presented on Monday would see a more spread out ANSEP campus along the highway, with the existing creek dividing the Institute property's residential neighborhoods. A walking trail and street would connect the two to the east.

An upper threshold for construction costs of the envisioned facility could run up to $50 million, according to Schroeder. From this point, he intends to seek out funding for the proposal through philanthropic sources, but an investment from Wrangell in terms of utility connections and land may be necessary to get the project off the ground.

ANSEP has looked at other sites in the state for a prospective campus, but in terms of size and availability, Schroeder said Wrangell's Institute "is the best one by far."

"What we want to know is if Wrangell wants the school here," he said.

"It's critical that we get input on that, because we have to set land aside," added Carol Rushmore, Wrangell's economic development coordinator.

Members of the community are invited to follow along with the planning process' progress online and submit comments at wrangellinstitute.blogspot.com, or check out its Facebook page.


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