In October, Skagway voters approved a $6 million bond for a senior center and housing facility by just five votes. That razor-thin margin has caused some debate among borough assembly members in deciding how to proceed with the project.
The assembly looked over a draft request for engineering design proposals. While discussing what to ask for in the RFP, the assembly tried to strike a balance between honoring the will of the people who voted for the project and the almost equal number who voted against it.
“For the amount of money we’re talking about, there’s been a lot of criticism that you’re gonna spend $6 million for seven units and a place to congregate doesn’t seem like a really good expense of our money,” said Assemblyman Orion Hanson.
Hanson suggested they leave the RFP’s wording more open-ended, so that they don’t have to stick with the initial conceptual design. That design was drawn up by an architecture firm with guidance from the senior ad hoc committee. It includes seven apartments in addition to the senior activity center.
“I personally think the design that’s submitted, or this conceptual one, it could be a lot more efficient,” Hanson said. “I mean, they’re one-bedroom 705-square-foot units – that’s pretty big.”
Some other members agreed that there might be a more cost-efficient model.
“I think what that does is allow us to get a little more bang for our buck,” said Assembly member Spencer Morgan.
But Assemblyman Jay Burnham fought back. He’s served as the liaison to the senior ad hoc committee for the past year.
“They’re the ones who designed it, worked with architects, and then to have it come to the [assembly] table and the RFP just get changed around to say ‘just give us some designs and we’ll pick what we want’…then why’d we have a senior committee to decide all this?” he said.
Then there was debate about whether to include a design for a senior center without housing in the RFP. Morgan said that might be sidestepping the public will by going against the ballot question’s specifications.
“I don’t see us being able to go against the voters and pull that out of there. They voted on senior apartments, “Morgan said. “I don’t think bringing plan back with no apartments is an option.”
But Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr. said asking for a senior-center-only design would shed light on how much the housing component of the project would actually cost.
“I think there’s not a single thing wrong with leaving that in if we could see what the costing of that was, because then you could really tell the difference between what is the activity center and what is the housing cost?” he said.
That argument seemed to win over most of the assembly. They left in the wording asking for a senior-center only design and cost estimate. They also modified the RFP to give more design leeway. For example, if the engineer wanted to include a design with nine apartments instead of seven.
The RFP will come back to the assembly for a second review at its Dec. 15 meeting.
Schaefer and Steve Burnham Jr. also gave an update on a meeting they attended with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. At the meeting, a consultant hired by White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad proposed a risk assessment before cleaning up contamination in the ore basin.
“I think we all know that that contamination has got to come out,” Schaefer said. “But we’re waiting for them to take their next step and for them to do their risk assessment of it.”
Burnham reiterated what he said in an interview with KHNS: a risk assessment is fine, as long as it happens quickly. Right now, the environmental firm that is proposing the study says it would take about a year to gather samples and finalize data.
Finally, the assembly approved a proposal to update an eight-year-old study on how Skagway spends cruise ship passenger taxes. The assembly asked for two studies – one to be done immediately and the next in two years. Each would cost a maximum of $7,500. The borough plans to pay for them using the funding source at issue in the studies — cruise passenger taxes.