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Borough launches multi-year Pioneer Park upgrades

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Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2012 11:43 pm | Updated: 11:23 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Tourist season is over at Pioneer Park, which means construction season has begun.

Crews have launched a multi-year upgrade of the park, including renovations at the Centennial Center for the Arts and utility improvements beneath many of the park’s streets. The work, which began about two weeks ago, could continue until 2014.

Park manager Jason Avery said the upgrades have been years in the making. They include exterior improvements and a repaired roof at the Centennial Center — informally known as the civic center — and sewer and electric overhauls in much of the eastern side of the park.

Work at the civic center will cost about $900,000, funded by the Fairbanks North Star Borough facilities maintenance reserve account. The sewer improvements will cost about $2.1 million, with 60 percent paid for by the state and 40 percent by the borough. The Alaska Department of Transportation is also contributing about $300,000 to repave the dug-up streets.

Avery said the work is mainly being scheduled during the brief window between summer tourist season and winter. The current phase of work at the park needs to be completed while the weather cooperates, so several crews are busy trying to wrap up their projects before snow falls.

Paving over those torn-up streets is planned for next fall, with hopes that the work will be done before visitors fill the park in the summer.

“It’s about all we can do without shutting down the park,” borough Public Works Director Scott Johnson said.

The repairs have caused some disruptions at Pioneer Park, including a month-long closure of the Fairbanks Arts Association’s Bear Gallery. It’s the first long-term closure since the park formerly known as Alaskaland opened, according to gallery officials.

Many of the streets also have been carved open to reach utility corridors underneath. Avery said he’s confident that the park will be ready for visitors next summer, although some unpaved roads may remain.

Crews spent the past year and a half mapping out utility and sewer lines, since record-keeping from the park’s early days is spotty at best.

The park was previously owned by the city and was swamped after the Chena River overflowed its banks in 1967.

“I think a lot of the plan rooms were flooded,” Avery said.

Johnson and Avery both agreed the upgrades are overdue. The sewer system in the park consists of deteriorating wood-stave pipes that were first installed 45 years ago. Avery said parts of the civic center roof have leaked for at least the past decade.

In addition to fixing aging pipes, Avery said new telecommunications lines are being installed to wire buildings for high-speed computer use.

“We’re looking toward the future in the park,” he said.

Johnson said the borough hopes to get funding for a second phase of sewer improvements that would focus on western parts of Pioneer Park, including the area around the Alaska Salmon Bake, barn and storage facilities. If state money materializes, that work would be done in 2014, he said.

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.

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