Land clearing begins for new science center campus

Fundraising continues as building material prices skyrocket

A visualization of the 20,000-square-foot main building planned to be the centerpiece of Prince William Sound Science Center’s new campus. Image courtesy of Prince William Sound Science Center

Land clearing has begun in preparation for the construction of Prince William Sound Science Center’s new campus.

Tree cutting began April 27, with two truckloads of logs so far donated to the Native Village of Eyak for use as firewood and four more truckloads expected, project organizers said. Construction will take place on a 5-acre waterfront site purchased from the city of Cordova and adjacent to a 120-acre property of the Copper River Watershed Project. It’s anticipated that the current phase of the campus’s construction will be substantially completed by June 2022, organizers said.

“The city of Cordova recognizes the critical need for the quality ocean science that the Prince William Sound Science Center executes,” Mayor Clay Koplin said. “The growing perils of ocean plastics, forever chemicals and climate change make it increasingly critical to keep our planet’s waters clean and healthy.”

The new campus is intended to expand PWSSC’s capacity in research and education. The 20,000-square-foot main building planned as the centerpiece of the campus will feature research laboratories, a classroom, a conference room, offices, and warehousing for PWSSC research vessels and other equipment, organizers said.

“Prince William Sound is unique in the world, and the science center serves a valuable role for not only the local economy and schools, but also by providing a place for valuable research that is informing the work of scientists throughout the world,” said Steve Moore, executive director of the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, in a release. “We’re not surprised that they’ve outgrown their current facility, and as one of the science center’s earliest sponsors, we’re proud to support that growth.”

The campus project received significant funding from organizations including the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, ConocoPhillips Alaska, the Rasmuson Foundation, the Eyak Corporation and the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association. Individual donors include former Cordova resident Meera Kohler and retired fishing industry executive John Garner. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, which donated $17.5 million, is the largest single donor thus far.

“We are pleased that the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council has provided the foundational funding of $17.5 million for construction of this facility that will serve as a lasting, positive legacy from the spill,” said Jason Brune, Chair, on behalf of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. “Combined with our historical support of PWSSC efforts, our total contribution to the success of this center now exceeds $43.5 million.”

Though vigorous fundraising efforts have succeeded in generating $19.1 million in fundraising commitments, some elements of the project have been deferred due to a combination of rising materials, labor and shipping costs, and of complications created by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a release by PWSSC.

“We met our initial goal, but the goalposts got moved,” PWSSC Executive Director Katrina Hoffman said.

Due to increased steel consumption and diminished output from major miners, steel prices have risen consistently since summer 2020, posting double-digit gains on a month-by-month basis. Demand for steel is projected to increase as the United States and China’s economies recover from the coronavirus pandemic, according to forecasts by the General Steel Corporation. Plywood and lumber prices have also risen dramatically, with the price of lumber increasing nearly 400% over the past year, the Associated Press reported.

PWSSC is currently seeking additional funding to complete elements of the campus such as a dormitory, a running seawater system and a seawater heat pump. To complete the campus as it was originally envisaged, an additional roughly $6 million will be necessary, Hoffman said.

For the current phase of construction, Dawson Construction and NorthForm Architecture are handling the design-build effort, following conceptual renderings by RIM Architects. PWSSC has enjoyed a collaborative relationship with the designers and builders working on the project, Hoffman said.

“We’re all motivated for this to be a success,” Hoffman said. “The things that will create little speed bumps and hiccups here and there are things that are out of our control: weather, soil, global shipping issues, manufacturing delays. But we’re on a really good track right now.”

PWSSC was established in 1989, shortly after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Since then, PWSSC has contributed more than $120 million to the state’s economy, according to a release by the center.