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Kenaitze Indian Tribe Opens New Stantec-Designed Educational Campus

KENAI, AK — The Kenaitze Indian Tribe recently celebrated the grand opening of the Kahtnuht’ana Duhdeldiht Campus (Kenai River People’s Learning Place), its new education center in Kenai, Alaska. The center combines core educational components and programs in one central facility with a focus on the Tribal Council’s commitment to building a tribally owned, culturally appropriate education campus.

The Anchorage office of integrated design firm Stantec provided architecture and interior design; surveying; and civil, structural, mechanical, and electrical engineering for the project. Stantec also completed an environmental assessment of the site. Blazy Construction was the general contractor.

Spanning 67,259 square feet, the education center includes two wings connected by a central indoor plaza. The education wing has classrooms and meeting spaces to accommodate the Tribe’s Early Learning preschool, K-12 Yaghanen Youth Language and Culture Program, Community Education and Career Training, and the Dena’ina Language Institute.

Supporting school and community activities, the second wing features a multipurpose room with a second-floor running track. This gathering space can house up to 300 people in banquet-style seating and is utilized for hosting tribal events, meetings, athletics, or other large events. There is also a cultural room for tribal demonstrations.

“Collaborating with the Tribe and seeing the project develop from ideas and paper into its realization is inspirational,” said Giovanna Gambardella, Stantec’s Principal Architect based in Anchorage. “The education center is an investment in the community and the tribe’s future. It was an honor to work with the tribe, to weave cultural and historical elements into the design, yet provide a durable and easy-to-maintain facility. We are thrilled to see children, parents, educators, families, and elders enjoying the new center.”

Cultural Values Central to Design
The Kahtnuht’ana Duhdeldiht Campus is designed as a safe place where children can achieve educational milestones while embracing the traditions of the Dena’ina culture. Every aspect of the design responds to local, cultural, and tribal values with each detail providing teaching opportunities beyond the classroom:
  • Reclaimed wood is repurposed from the community’s historic cannery, which emphasizes the tribe’s long-standing fishing traditions.
  • A 16-foot diameter tribal seal is embedded in the lobby floor, while a 20-foot diameter rendering of the tribe’s Traditional Values Wheel is embedded in the multipurpose room floor.
  • The building exterior features a custom copper color aluminum panel pattern that simulates salmon skin, a resource central to the tribe’s identity, and the curved design references a circular sense of community.
  • Landscape and playground areas were designed to teach children about the natural environment.
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To create a warm and nurturing environment, the design emphasized a palette of natural materials throughout the light-filled space. Since overstimulation can result from the use of a strong color scheme, particular attention was paid to selecting a balanced combination of accents and natural finishes and textures.

“The tribe’s vision is ‘To assure Kahtnuht’ana Dena’ina thrive forever,’ and I can’t think of a more important way of doing that than sharing language, culture, and traditional knowledge,” said Bernadine Atchison, Tribal Council Chair.

The Kenaitze Indian Tribe was federally recognized as a sovereign, independent nation in 1971 under the Indian Reorganization Act as amended for Alaska. Today, the tribe has more than 1,800 tribal members who live across the Kenai Peninsula and beyond; it employs about 350 full-time and part-time employees.

With 50 years of history in Alaska, Stantec has designed educational facilities throughout the state, including in many rural communities.

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