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



RE: Another Option
by Dave Kiffer


March 24, 2004

It was interesting to see the letters generated by Pat Jirschele's recent comments regarding the proposed new library and new museum. It is obvious there are people in the community who care deeply about the library and the museum and that is a very, very good thing.

I have had a somewhat inside view on the situation because I have been involved in museum planning efforts since the mid 1990s and my wife has worked at the public library for some 14 years. I'm also just old enough to remember the original construction of the Centennial Building and the fact that even then most local leaders felt the combining of the two departments in one building was a temporary situation that would be rectified in the early 1970s. Ketchikan needed a project to celebrate the state's centennial in 1967 and the Centennial building was it. Something had to go in the building, so the museum and library went there with the general feeling that at some point one or the other would move out as expansion warranted.

That "temporary" situation has lasted nearly 40 years and only the most determined "head in the sand" ostrich could contend that the residents of Ketchikan don't deserve better facilities for both. Fiscal responsibility is the key to accomplishing this, but there has to be a realization that there is a cost. We need to build facilities that will serve this community now and in the future. In 1967, local leaders built a single building with the belief that future governments would alleviate the problem created. That has not been the case. We don't want to make that same mistake with any of our necessary city or borough facilities in the future.

The idea of a larger structure spanning Ketchikan Creek brings into play several factors that would have to be addressed, most notably design and the effects on the Creek.

First of all, it is a logical assumption that neither state (Fish and Game or DNR) nor the federal Army Corps of Engineers are going to quickly sign off on any proposal that could significantly effect such an important anadromous (spawning) salmon stream. Nor should we expect them to. Salmon are pretty resilient (look at that little run of humpies that refuses to abandon Hoadly Creek!) but in the modern world any construction over a salmon stream involves the triggering of regulations that make Dante's various circles of Hell seem like a picnic. I realize that some of the oversight has transferred from Fish and Game to the more development-friendly Department of Natural Resources, but it would be a mistake to assume that all the restrictions have gone away or that the interested government agencies would "welcome" this construction.

Secondly, libraries are extremely heavy structures. Books are not light as any one who picks up a fully loaded book box quickly learns. Load bearing requirements for libraries are extremely high because of that density. Over the years, there have been surveys to determine whether the space problem at the Centennial Building could be alleviated by adding additional floors. The answer is yes, but only if you don't put books up there. They are simply too heavy for the existing structure. I would be surprised if an over-the-creek design didn't require a very significant arc to transfer that weight load to the footings on either side of the creek. Not that it can't be done, but it might not end up looking quite like you would like it to and that it probably would be cost prohibitive.

Many writers have commented that the library and museum building currently occupies a spectacular setting and great creek views. Yes, it does, but the current overcrowding in the library has pretty much eliminated the ability for the public to enjoy that view from inside the library. The reading "room" now offers a spectacular view of the interchange between the upper and lower Centennial parking lots. The increasingly smaller reading "area" that does have a view of the Creek has become an unofficial gathering place for the less fortunate members of our society seeking a dry place. The view from the children's library downstairs is usually of the cars parked in the Mary Frances Lot, you get the idea.

A section of the library spanning the Creek would provide great viewing up and down the Creek. It would also dramatically cut off the view up and down the Creek for every one else which I suspect would be more than a little "controversial." In designing a new museum for the site, there is always the opportuning to come up with a design that increases the Creek viewing opportunities. It would not be easy because museums by their nature tend to want to shield their collections from ambient light, but I think that both concerns can be accomodated. Similarly, a new library in a different location can be designed with the "viewsheds" of Pennock, Gravina, Tongass Narrows and Deer Mountain in mind. We just have to make it a priority in the final design. Just as we have to make the aesthetics a priority in both buildings to that we don't end up with something as ugly as the Juneau parking garage/library building. For the past several years, I have been researching communities that have designed parking garages to fit in with their surroundings. It can be done, as long as we make it clear to the architects that we are looking for something that reflects the community and not the "creativity" of the architect. I totally agree that we need to be building buildings that meet our needs and "fit" our communities, not win awards for architects or look they were deposited by in our midst by aliens.

Whether the current proposals for the museum and library "fit" our community needs is for the public to decide and I look forward to that discussion and debate. But what is not debatable is that the only true measure of our time is whether we pass on a better community than the one we inherited and that we don't shirk our responsibility to do so.

Dave Kiffer
Ketchikan, AK - USA


Related Viewpoint:

Another option for new library structure not yet explored by Patrick Jirschele - Ketchikan, AK - USA



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



Post a Comment -------View Comments

Submit an Opinion - Letter

Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska