Sitnews - Stories In The News - Ketchikan, Alaska - Opinions



Major Renovation of White Cliff Contemplated
by Dave Kiffer


January 27, 2005

Tom LeCompte is certainly entitled to his opinion and since he is a former White Cliff teacher, I value his input.

But he tends to paint an overly simplified view of the community's ability to find a new use for the White Cliff building. He didn't have to go back home to Aberdeen to find an instance of a building similar to White Cliff burning up. He could have found pictures of old Main School (the forerunner to Valley Park) burning up in the early 1970s. Buildings burn. Big ones, little ones and, yes, school buildings as well. Last year, a two-year old school building in New Jersey was fully engulfed in less than an hour. Sometimes even the best modern school construction and fire safety codes can't prevent that.

Were a variety of health and safety issues regarding the building glossed over as local officials tried to squeeze more elementary school use out of White Cliff the last decade or so (and I remember the fire safety in the building being an issue as long ago as the mid 1960s)? Certainly. One of the biggest problems was the borough didn't want to put any money into a building that was going to be replaced "just around the corner." Of course, just around the corner has ended up taking more than 20 years as we have built Point Higgins, rehabbed Houghtaling and essentially "replaced" Kayhi and Schoenbar.

In the first community walk-through of the vacant building last fall, a local fire safety expert was invited along to give his viewpoint. He outlined several things that need to be done to improve the fire safety in the building, the approximate cost of which is estimated at around $500,000 to $600.000. Overall, it is estimated that it will take $4-$6 million to redevelop the building. So the fire safety improvements could be around 10 percent of the project.

Had Mr. LeCompte been paying closer attention to the discussion of the project, he would have realized that at $4-$6 million "major renovation" is exactly what is contemplated. And the vast majority of this money must be raised from sources outside the community because local government can not afford a project of that size at this time.

That's not a small amount of money, but - as a taxpayer - does Mr. LeCompte favor local government spending nearly $2 million to tear the building down and completely clear the site? Cleared of the building, the 2-acre parcel would be worth some $800,000 if sold. So we are looking at losing at least $1.2 million just doing that. The other option would be to offer it to whomever would take for $1. Who is going to want a two acre site (worth $800,000) that carries a $2 million demolition burden?

In the Seattle area alone, there are six former school buildings (from the 1920s through the 1960s) that have been readapted into such uses as condominiums, arts centers, senior centers, government office space and shopping malls. These buildings are more than "memories," they are physical embodiment of the community's history and its heritage. Before we rush to tear any historic building down, we need to take the time to evaluate the situation to make sure that we are not losing more than we are gaining.

Dave Kiffer
Historic Ketchikan, Inc.
Ketchikan,, AK - USA


By the way, one of the site visits included contractors up on the roof. It actually leaks less than the roofs of at least four other public buildings built in the 1990s. While I agree that "flat roofs" are a mistake in this climate, the folks who built White Cliff in 1927 (on time and under budget!) knew what they were doing. You can also say that the about overall foundation and frame of the building. It was built to last and it has.

Related Viewpoint:

letter Any White Cliff Occupancy Without Renovation Questioned by Tom LeCompte - Ketchikan, AK - USA



Note: Comments published on Viewpoints are the opinions of the writer
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.



Write a Letter -------Read Letters

E-mail the Editor

Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska