New science center: An investment in the future

Celebrants at the opening of the new Prince William Sound Science Center, from left, Seth Walker, Verne Martell, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, PWSSC President & CEO Katrina Hoffman, former Gov. Bill Walker, and carver Mike Webber flanked by the two new house post totems funded by The Eyak Corp. and Chugach Alaska Corp. Photo courtesy of Seth Walker

Editor’s Note: This is the presentation Katrina Hoffman gave at the opening of the new Prince William Sound Science Center facilities to thank all who contributed to the project.

What a day!

I would like to begin by acknowledging the Eyak people who have stewarded these lands for generations. Thank you.

To our elected officials in attendance today:

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski
  • Rep. Louise Stutes
  • Sen. Gary Stevens
  • The Honorable Bill Walker, former Governor of Alaska
  • Former Mayor Clay Koplin
  • Former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell
  • Mayor David Allison
  • And members of the Cordova City Council

Thank you for your leadership.

In the late 1980s, Cordova’s community leaders recognized the value and productivity of our region’s ecosystems and conceived of a new Science Center based on the principle of resilience: adapting to change over time while thriving.

We incorporated one month after the oil spill in 1989, and back then the opportunity to accomplish something meaningful here in the world’s richest waters was so powerful that our first employees, people like Penny Oswalt and Nancy Bird, came aboard when it wasn’t clear where the money would come from to pay them. Everybody involved knew that this place was worth studying, because the resilience of our region matters. Since then, so many people have worked to create a future that we can all be proud to be a part of.

Today, we’re launching the next era of Science Center work. Our new campus is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will stimulate our regional economy and enable the work that will continue to advance our region’s resilience. You’ve probably heard the phrase “Think globally, act locally.” The incredible ecosystems you’re surrounded by right now are globally relevant. And that means that what happens locally matters. Our new facilities on these five waterfront acres will make our region and Alaska more competitive for national-level research funding, support high-wage jobs, and advance industries such as mariculture, aquaculture, and commercial fishing.

There has never been a more important time to invest in the future. Crises seem to be colliding into one another, but the positive actions we collectively take today can have lasting impacts across generations. What we learn and do and demonstrate through this new campus can contribute solutions and help create a future that we all want to be a part of.

Something like this campus is built step-by-step, person by person, over many years. There are too many people to mention, but I’ll do my best to identify many of those who have played a significant role in getting us to this moment.

To our co-founder R.J. Kopchak, this is a vision you’ve had since the beginning – a state-of-the-art research and education facility that will stand the test of time. Thank you for your steadfast vision and advocacy.

To former Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell, a co-founder and a driving force behind the creation of the Oil Spill Recovery Institute, our sister organization that today serves as a major funding source for improving oil spill response technologies: We thank you.

To Rick Steiner, another founder who isn’t with us today but played a key role: thank you.

To the Cordova City Council, which made the decision to sell us this land. You were – and remain — a critical partner in helping us to move forward. We also thank City Manager Helen Howarth and her predecessors who helped advance this project. Thank you.

Across three decades, Science Center board members have shepherded the organization through its growth from occupying what was once a leaky old icehouse to this moment. I’d specifically like to thank former board chairs that I have had the opportunity to work with: Meera Kohler, Jim Harvey, Eric Knudsen, Mike Mahoney, Angela Butler, and Caryn Rea, and current board chair Dan Hull, as well as current and former board members in my time: Andrew Smallwood, Laura Meadors, Clarence Pautzke, John Garner, Todd Telesz, Sylvia Lange, Thea Thomas, Chuck Meacham, Kate Dugan, Robyn McGhee, Betsi Oliver, Chris Rurik, Tommy Sheridan, Doug Causey, Jeff Welker, Gordie Reeves, Riki Lebman, Don Moore, Molly McCammon, Sheyna Wisdom, Peter Andersen, Margaret Stock, and Craig Tillery, all of whom are wonderful people to have on your side, and many of whom made the critical decisions necessary to move this project forward starting in 2016. Thank you for your leadership, your guidance, and your service.

To the Cordova community, both individuals and businesses, which made 57 donations to make this moment possible, and whose donations leveraged an additional $100,000 from the Rasmuson Foundation: this campus is, in part, by you, and for you. Major local donors include the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association led by Christa Hoover and her board, the Cordova Community Foundation, the Cordova Electric Cooperative, Thea Thomas, Bert Stammerjohan and Liz Senear, and many, many others. Thank you.

To our partners at the Copper River Watershed Project, who recently received title to over 120 acres up-creek from our property whose future uses are restricted to conservation and recreation, and who helped manage development of the non-motorized shoreline access point just across the street: together, the areas we steward are creating a world-class research, education, recreation, and conservation district that will provide benefits for people from Alaska and beyond for decades to come.

To our dedicated staff who worked tirelessly on this project over the past couple of years. They include Rich Rogers, our Owner’s Project Manager who formerly oversaw the construction of the Cordova Center where many of you will have dinner tonight; our brilliant finance team, Linnea Ronnegard and Becca Dodge; our Chief Science Officer Rob Campbell; our Education Director Lauren Bien and so many other thoughtful educators over the years; OSRI Research Program Manager Scott Pegau; researchers Mary Anne Bishop, Pete Rand, Kristen Gorman, Maya Groner, Alysha Cypher, Caitlin McKinstry, Anne Schaefer; fundraising lead Seth Walker; and Development & Communications Manager, Signe Baumann; as well as many other researchers, staffers, and volunteers over the years: You met over and over again to provide input on the design of the future facilities, and each and every one of you co-created what we see here today. Thank you for your time and service to the project, and for your hand in its success.

Our Facilities Committee, chaired by Laura Meadors and attended by Craig Tillery, Thea Thomas, Andrew Smallwood, R.J. Kopchak, Phil Mundy, and Cathy Sherman. From selection of early designers to vital decisions all along the way, you led this project with your unique strengths. Without you, we wouldn’t have this. Thank you.

Capital campaign committee members Helen Howarth, Clay Koplin, Sylvia Lange, Margaret Stock, John Garner, Meera Kohler, and Caryn Rea: you made it possible for us to get to where we are today.

And, of course, our donors. I can’t list them all. But you’ll see them on the beautiful donor recognition wall inside. If your name is there: thank you. If it’s not there yet, Phase II construction of our running seawater system begins at 7am on Monday morning. You still have time!

Meera Kohler: You were the source of the first large check by an individual to help buy the parcel we’re all standing on today. Without land, we could not apply for anchor funds. You were truly our first believer and you voted with your dollars. Thank you for your vision and for continuing to reinvest in your first Alaska home.

John Garner was our second individual large donor, just after Meera. You can’t have a movement if a second person doesn’t follow the first. You helped create a movement. You’re quietly dedicated and tenacious in all the right ways. Thank you.

Larry and Barbara Cash: You donated early renderings as well as your own dollars, which inspired others to follow your generous lead. Thank you for being a part of this.

The Murdock Charitable Trust: One of our earliest funders. For 30 years, you’ve believed in us. Thank you for your extraordinary support: for helping us hire Rob Campbell, for helping rebuild our research vessel, and now, this building.

The Rasmuson Foundation: Your project support has been remarkable from the start, including  pre-development support for our work with the Foraker Group, your facilities grant, a community matching grant, and your advocacy. We wouldn’t be where we are without the Rasmuson Foundation. Thank you.

ConocoPhillips Alaska: For three decades, you’ve stood by our side. You were our first major corporate supporter, and you’ve stuck with us in support of research, education, and now, facilities. Your corporate support is unmatched, and we thank you for sponsoring our new classroom. Thank you President Issaccson, Mr. Stevens, Jennifer Rose, Portia Babcock, Caryn Rea, and Robyn McGhee.

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council has a responsibility to attend to the recovery of this region, our home, that has lost so much that still hasn’t been regained some 33 years later. You have invested in restoration research and we have partnered with you on that. The vast majority of the work we do is directly related to the region you are charged with restoring, and because of that, you invested in our facilities, and in doing so, you stoked the belief that our community and our region will continue to recover from some of the economic, social, cultural, and environmental losses that still sting. Your extraordinary commitment has made it possible for the Science Center to achieve what we have, and therefore I’d like to thank each of the Trustees who contributed to the decisions over the past four years that brought forth anchor funding for these new facilities: David Schmid, Sara Taylor, Jason Brune, Doug Vincent-Lang, Treg Taylor, Craig O’Connor, Steven Mulder, Sam Cotten, Terri Marceron, Jahna Lindemuth, Steve Wackowski, Larry Hartig, and Jim Balsiger. There are many painful legacies from the oil spill, but this is one of the positive ones. Thank you.

And to so many of our major donors, including Chugach Alaska Corporation, The Eyak Corporation, CoBank, Lynden, ExxonMobil Alaska, Odom Corporation, the Meacham Foundation, Laura and Mike Meadors, Cascadia Cross-Border Law Group, The Telesz Family, Margaret Stock and Neil O’Donnell, Nancy Pease and Dan Hull, Barclay and R.J. Kopchak, Phyllis Johnson and Craig Tillery; Sylvia Lange and Greg Meyer; Andrew Smallwood and Michelle Hahn, and all of the other individuals and corporations on our donor wall inside the building, this campus is here because of you. Thank you!

And finally…

We had the pleasure of working with not one, not two, but three architecture firms throughout this project, and even more architects if you consider if you consider those who provided pre-development guidance through the Foraker Group. RIM Architects generated the early conceptual renderings that sparked inspiration and understanding for our donors. MCG Explore Design brought a multifaceted team forth in the form of John Weir, Michael Carlson, and Evelyn Rousso, who, with their subs, got this project to 35% design and to a place where we could invite design-build teams comprised of contractors working in concert with architects and engineers to propose to us how they would complete this project. And we were so lucky that NorthForm Architecture was on the winning team, because they may be a small firm but they are mighty, and it was an absolute pleasure to be in the incredibly capable hands of Robert Meyer, Heather Sealy, and most importantly, Scott Veerman.

And that team who scored the highest in the proposals to build these facilities was Dawson Construction. It pays to work with a team that has deep experience in Alaska—especially coastal Alaska—and the incredible results you delivered are a testament to your experience and the relationships you bring to bear on a construction project.

We got a strong start under the steady hand of Ryan Binning, and it felt like a loss when his contribution to the project naturally came to a close, but then we got to work with Nate Katschke, and that softened the blow because Nate is great. I know Leslie Roe helps you keep all your ducks in a row, so thanks to you both. Kendall Nielsen is the promoter you want on your team. He wanted to understand our organizational culture to deliver a winning proposal, and he did it. Les and Kelly Hostetler: what a dynamic duo. I often wondered if you slept at night and I know sometimes you didn’t. We were so lucky to have you both leading the construction crew. I almost never heard the word “no” from either of you—you are doggedly committed and holistic in your approach and you added value and excellence to this project in ways that will never be fully transparent to the rest of us, but you should be proud, and I know we are grateful. And behind you two there are dozens of subcontractors, experts in everything from wiring to drywall to concrete to earth moving and more. You kept them organized, on task, and adaptive, and in doing so, they all contributed to this project’s success. Between this project and the one they did immediately prior, this team has accumulated over 50,000 crew hours without an injury—a notable accomplishment.

To Pete Dawson, the team you have built is so awesomely capable that you rarely ever have to get called in on anything, but you never let us feel like a little fish in a big pond; you always made us feel like a valued client, and the personal attention you gave to the project when it mattered was very much appreciated. Thank you.

And Chad McGraw, you are a procurement wizard. I will say it again: this man is a procurement wizard. Building in covid times is HARD and we encountered some tough situations, from crushing cost escalations to contaminated soils to unsuitable soils to mind boggling materials lead times, and through it all, you had an unflappable attitude and a steady resolve. You and Nate had to deliver not so great news on more than one occasion but you also managed to have a steady supply of rabbits to pull out of your hat, but it’s not because you’re lucky: it’s because you’re talented. Dawson, we could say that we’d work with you over and over again, and we will, because Phase II starts at 7am Monday morning!

And I know I said his name before but on the Science Center team, one guy was here 7 days a week at all hours of the day, tracking the details that were too many to count, and that is Rich Rogers, a complete and total asset to our staff, and a fun trivia teammate, to boot.

It’s funny how things come full circle. I stumbled across an article from the early 1990s that pondered whether the Prince William Sound Science Center might have a future on a forested site next to the tidally influenced lagoons at Shelter Cove. Everyone seemed to forget about that location. In the intervening years the Science Center looked at, attempted, and made a U-turn from about a dozen other locations and timelines. And look where we are now: right here in this beautiful space, with views down the inlet and up Mt. Eyak. It feels really good, and when you walk through those doors, you’ll realize that it IS really good.

Thanks to the work of so many, the Science Center is a successful, place-based non-profit community benefit organization; the only one of its kind on Prince William Sound. Over 33 years, we have generated more than $120 million dollars for Alaska, contributing an estimated $60 million dollars to the local economy—and that’s not including this construction project. From the standpoint of research and education, this is truly the world’s richest laboratory and the world’s richest natural classroom set amongst the world’s richest waters.

This is a time of great change in the world that is driving unpredictable outcomes for the things that matter to all of us. With these new facilities, we can grow capacity, programs, and partnerships that will help ensure our region is a stronghold of resilience for the decades to come. We’re taking the long view, because we’re deeply invested in this place—it’s one of the last, best places on earth. Let’s keep it that way. Let’s make it better. We are so grateful to have you all with us. Thank you.

Katrina Hoffman president and CEO of the Prince William Sound Science Center.