Note: Opinions expressed in commentary on KCAW are those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by the station’s board, staff, or volunteers.
My name is Don Lehmann, president of the board of directors of the Sitka Summer Music Festival, and a Sitka resident since 1987. For the 47 years of bringing world class chamber music to Sitka and 40 other Alaska communities, we have called Stevenson Hall our home. In 2015, with the help of generous donors, we purchased the deteriorating building with the intent to preserve its place on the Sheldon Jackson campus for the next 100 years.
To be good stewards of Stevenson Hall, the campus, and Sitka, we formed a building committee with representatives from engineering, contracting, law, and construction, including a former facilities manager at the Sheldon Jackson College. For over five years the committee, with the aid of an historic architect, has developed a plan to turn the 108-year old, uninsulated, unheated, and decaying Stevenson Hall into an efficient, sustainable, 12-month “Mothership” for the Sitka Summer Music Festival. By retaining many of its historic elements, the completed building will be a fitting part of a vibrant, revitalized Sheldon Jackson campus.
We will reclaim as much of the original siding as possible to use on the quad-facing side of the building. Where replacement siding is required, we will use red cedar siding purchased from Prince of Wales Island that mimics the original. We are restoring to original the distinctive, but currently absent, wainscot panels below each of the first-floor windows, and we are reconstructing architectural corbels that were removed sometime in the building’s past. Clearly, we are committed to preserving the character of Stevenson Hall and the campus.
We continue to hear controversy about our choice of windows. The current windows are far past their useful life expectancy, perform poorly, and have high maintenance costs. “Restored” windows are subject to continued deterioration and rot, and require continual maintenance. For example, in 2005, each window had glazing compound replaced, was repainted, and new glass was installed as needed. The windows have since deteriorated significantly — many no longer function. Replacement units will outlast attempts to restore the existing windows, and will be far more efficient, will contribute to building longevity, and will provide much-needed noise abatement.
Unfortunately, some community members continue to mischaracterize our choice for window replacement. They are not plastic. They are not vinyl. They are high quality units specifically constructed to closely resemble the original, but provide the benefits of modern windows: efficiency, durability, and low maintenance. These characteristics are consistent with our philosophy of respectful renovation, and the long-term viability of our home.
We are committed to historic preservation. We are turning a hundred-year old historic building into a year-round home for musicians and the centuries-old priceless instruments. We are retaining historic features of the building’s exterior, and recapturing historic elements that have been absent for decades. And we continue to refine our plans with the State Historic Preservation Office. It is close to amazing, given the current state economy that we have been able to nearly reach the $4.2 million fundraising goal for the local project that will use local labor. The rehabilitated Stevenson Hall will help to revitalize the SJ campus, be a boon for the Sitka economy, and make Sitka even more of a cultural center for the rest of Alaska.