Sealaska Heritage Institute Buys Downtown Juneau Building for School Programs

Feb 22, 2023 | Alaska Native, Education, News, Nonprofits, Real Estate

muni building

A rendering shows planned renovation of the Municipal Way Building in downtown Juneau, adjacent to SHI’s Walter Soboleff Building.

Sealaska Heritage Institute

The downtown Juneau campus of Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) is expanding with the purchase of the Municipal Way Building. The nonprofit has taken over the three-story structure on the same block as its Walter Soboleff Building, with plans to convert it into educational space.

“An Exciting Problem to Have”

The Municipal Way Building was the neighbor of the Skinner Building, which burned down in 2004. The lot stood vacant until 2015, when SHI opened its new headquarters abutting the Municipal Way property. Last year, SHI opened its Arts Campus across South Seward Street. Expanded programming has more than tripled the institute’s staff.

“The additional space will allow more room for dynamic programming, staff, and storage,” says SHI President Rosita Worl. “We have been astounded by the rapid growth of Sealaska Heritage, and we want to accommodate that momentum and meet the expanding needs of our students. It’s a challenging but exciting problem to have.”

SHI plans to renovate parts of the Municipal Way Building as fundraising allows. The renovation will include refacing the Victorian-style exterior with yellow cedar cladding, like SHI’s other buildings, to reflect the architecture of Southeast Alaska clan houses.

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The building’s 14,000 square feet will be converted into space for the institute’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) program that integrates Western and Indigenous science, which it currently offers to students in grades 6-12.

STEAM teaching methods tap high-tech environments that provide such items as electronics, 3D printers, laser cutters, computers, robotics, and soldering and engraving tools. SHI is expanding this approach to incorporate Indigenous knowledge, as knowledge was historically passed down through hands-on methods, such as master-apprenticeships.

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