Soldotna City Council members, city staff and community members on Friday donned hard hats and plunged shovels into a large dirt mound in the parking lot of the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The cohort, joined by dozens of onlookers, was there to break ground on the long-awaited Soldotna field house project.
Under a chilly late-autumn sun, Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney kicked off the groundbreaking event by welcoming attendees and honoring the work of past and present Soldotna council members, mayors and city managers on the field house project.
“This moment has been anxiously anticipated for years and we are finally here because of the efforts, time and dedication of a few tenacious individuals as well as the support of the entire community,” Whitney said.
Jeff Dolifka, president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula, and outgoing Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District Executive Director Tim Dillon, were introduced by Whitney as the “dynamic duo” that rallied community support for the project.
“I believe it’s our responsibility as a community to constantly strive to provide for a better future for our children,” Dolifka said. “We just did that. This project will yield benefits for years to come and change the lives of many. I eagerly anticipate the grand opening.”
Dillon underscored the economic opportunities and enhancement to Soldotna’s quality of life that the field house will bring.
“I’m so excited, especially for all the young people that are out here,” Dillon said. “This is something that really is a generational project that’s going to be just awesome, not only for them and their growth, but also the economic opportunity to bring different conferences and different events here to Soldotna.”
Whitney provided a brief history of the field house project, which was first acted on by Soldotna City Council members in 2016 but then failed by just 18 votes in 2019. The city took the issue back up last summer and voters overwhelmingly supported a ballot proposition last fall allowing the city to incur up to $15 million for the construction of the facility.
The city this summer restructured its funding plan for the field house and removed from the project scope a building connecting the field house to the sports complex after a project cost estimate came in $10 million more than what the city budgeted. City council members in September awarded a $14.1 million contract to Anchorage-based Criterion General, Inc. for construction of the project — an amount was much closer to the city’s original cost estimate.
When completed, the 40,500-square-foot field house will cover roughly an acre of land immediately adjacent to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. The facility will include multipurpose sport courts, a removable turf field and an elevated walking and jogging track that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Soldotna Public Works Director Kyle Kornelis told attendees that passersby should expect to see site work being done starting next spring, and that the city hopes to open the field house by fall or winter of 2025. The project team, Kornelis said, will soon be reviewing and approving the pre-engineered metal field house building, which will be manufactured and then shipped to Alaska.
Orange pylons outlined the footprint of the future field house building, which covers a significant portion of the sports complex’s existing parking lot. Kornelis said a new parking area will be constructed west of both facilities, toward the baseball fields and that the net effect will be more parking spaces at the site.
As the crowd dispersed on Friday, some attendees batted a pickleball back and forth over a net that’d been set up near the groundbreaking site. Situated toward the center of the space enclosed by pylons, the scene offered a glimpse into the future of the site, where the field house will offer a structured environment for the same types of activities.
More information about the Soldotna field house can be found on the project website at soldotnafieldhouse.org.