When summer comes, Kenai will have large metal letters spelling out the town’s name next to the bluff-top gazebo near the Kenai Senior Citizens Center.
The approximately four-foot tall letters will rest atop a low wall. Attached to the front of the wall will be an approximately 10-foot long mountain scene, carved like the letters from a thick sheet of metal.
Two Kenai Central High School freshmen, Damien Redder and Jude Gabriel, are making the sign in teacher Barry Hartman’s computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing class. In the class, students design forms with software and create them with computer-controlled machines, such as the plasma cutter Redder and Gabriel have used to cut out Kenai’s K, E, and I.
Other students in the class are using the machines to make personal projects or decorative metalwork that can be sold to businesses or individuals as fundraiser items to cover shop costs.
The material for the Kenai sign, however, was purchased with a $500 minigrant from the city of Kenai. Hartman said the idea came from Kenai Mayor Pat Porter, a member of the Minigrant Steering Committee.
The committee has funded beautification work by Kenai welding students before — in 2006 it gave a similar $500 grant for the metal salmon cut-outs that remain in municipal flowerbeds and lawns.
As freshmen, neither Gabriel or Redder have taken a shop class before. Both said the project was a new experience for them.
“It’s challenging, but it’s a good kind of challenging,” Gabriel said. “Just making sure everything’s lined up properly, everything’s fitting together.”
“It took a while to learn to weld, too,” Redder added.
Hartman said he assigned the project to Redder and Gabriel because they were the first to complete the class’s 15 preliminary computer-aided drafting projects.
“This is obviously an odd-ball project, but they were the first to get their drawings done, which shows me that they’re at the top of their game, which is why I threw such a big project at them,” Hartman said.
The two started work in November and hope to have the sign, including the concrete base that will be donated by Best Concrete, complete by summer.
“Getting all the letters put together, I think, won’t take too long,” Gabriel said. “But there’s also getting the base and the letters on the base.”
After cutting out each letter, Gabriel and Redder will frame them in square tubing using a wire-feed welding process. Hartman said cutting the tubing is a challenging step.
“It’s one big math problem, as far as cutting angles on the horizontal band-saw to wrap those letters in square tubing,” he said. “Then welding with the wire-feed. A lot of it is done on the computer with this project, but it’s just numbers and math.”
The panoramic mountain scene, which includes the silhouettes of Mount Iliamna, Mount Redoubt and Mount Spurr as well as detailed fishing boats in the water below, will be cut on a similar, but larger, plasma-cutting table in Homer.
The area near Kenai’s Warren Aimes Bridge was also considered for the sign, but Porter said getting that placement required permission from the Alaska Department of Transportation if the sign was to be placed in the highway right-of-way, or from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, which owns the surrounding wetland, and would have been too difficult.
“We decided not to even apply,” Porter said. “The application process would have much more difficult, and you run the risk of it not being approved.”
Porter said the Senior Center location was chosen for its view of Mount Redoubt and the Kenai River mouth.
“It’s a matter of community pride,” Porter said. “It’s a great opportunity to have Kenai in pictures from tourists and everything.”
From Hartman’s perspective, the sign is a valuable class project.
“Once we get the kids rolling and functional and in the shop making things, the more community-minded projects that come in, the happier I am,” Hartman said. “Keeping them busy and not always doing something for yourself… It’s a chance to give back. With this Kenai project, what better way for these kids to leave a mark on their community? Because that’s going to be there for a while, and I think it’s going to be pretty neat.”