Hundred-year ‘treasure’ of Alaska history and culture opens in Juneau

It was built to protect and preserve Alaska’s most-treasured documents and artifacts for the next hundred years. The replacement for the old Alaska State Museum in Juneau was almost two decades in the planning and it took over three years to build.

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Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan addresses a crowd during the grand opening of the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff Library, Archives and Museum on June 6, 2016. (Photo by Matt Miller, KTOO - Juneau)
Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan addresses a crowd during the grand opening of the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff Library, Archives and Museum on June 6, 2016. (Photo by Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau)

Now, it’s finished. And the public just had their first chance to look inside the Capital City’s biggest construction project in over four decades.

The new Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff Library, Archives and Museum is now open, just in time for Celebration 2016, Southeast Alaska’s regular event of Alaska Native dance and culture.

Monday’s grand opening and ribbon cutting featured Kashevaroff’s great-grandchild.

Mary Purvis described how Father Kashevaroff, a Russian Orthodox priest and founder of the territorial library and museum, was especially careful about being accurate while documenting Alaska’s culture and history.

“Grandpa cared deeply about getting things right when the museum and library first started, he would be so pleased to know that the State of Alaska still cares about getting it right with this amazing new facility,” Purvis said.

Planning for the new facility started long before the State of Alaska in 2002 purchased the piece of property behind the old Alaska State Museum on Whittier Street in downtown Juneau. The former museum, the Library and Historical Collections located in the State Office Building, and the former Archives were all running out of space. In addition, the former Archives building, located adjacent to the SOB, was literally splitting in half. State officials determined that consolidating all of the facilities into one building would be more efficient and also help with preservation of important Alaska artifacts and documents into the far future. The new facility was widely known as SLAM, or State Library, Archives and Museum until the Legislature formally named it in 2015.

Governor Bill Walker called it a phenomenal building that is a real treasure. He credited those with a vision to create the $139 million facility while oil prices were still high.

“One thing I do says about this new building: Timing is everything,” Walker said. “It was really good timing on somebody’s part. We can afford to cut the ribbon.  I applaud those who thad the vision of this day, and they let nothing stop them.”

The project included construction of a new artifact vault and transfer of artifacts, demolition of the old museum, and then construction of the rest of the facility that includes administrative offices and public spaces like the museum and library.

The new facility is expected to last a hundred years. Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott said it celebrates the vision and achievement of Alaskans, and Alaska’s future.

“In coming days, we can celebrate both collectively, symbolically,  and really when we say Alaska can build the most beautiful edifices, we can build the most incredible future, and we can do it together as this building is so emblematic of,” Mallott said.

Juneau Senator Dennis Egan thanked governors and lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle and from outside of the Capital City for advocating for the 118-thousand square foot facility.

“It took from 2002 to 2014, 4 governors, 2 senators, 6 representatives,” Egan said. “Hey, it’s a big building!”

Marc Luiken, Commissioner of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said over a half million man hours of work went into the facility’s construction over the last three years.

“I think God has already provided some providence in the fact that they were able to do that without one lost time injury,” Luiken said. “That is huge for a project like this.”

Harborview School students in the Tlingit Culture, Language and Literacy program sang and danced, and – as the building is intended to benefit all future generations – they were given the honor of cutting the ribbon.

Tlingit elders Rosa Miller and Marie Olson started the ceremony by welcoming everyone to Áak’w Kwáan land.