The Kenaitze tribe announced plans for a multi-million dollar expansion of its facilities in Kenai Thursday.
When the Dena’ina Wellness Center in Old Town Kenai opened five years ago, it represented a big step in the level of services the tribe would be able to provide for its members. But it certainly wasn’t a final step. A new school is just one part of a broader goal of the Kenaitze tribe to become an even bigger part of the community that has grown up around it.
Diane Zirul is the tribal council’s secretary. She told the Kenai Chamber of Commerce Thursday morning the tribe has also reacquired more land in Old Town that will help it sustain growth in its health care operations, which have quickly outgrown the wellness center.
“We built this beautiful building five years ago. It’s like any construction project. You run out of space before you move in. We do not have individual offices for all of our primary care (providers). Optometry, behavioral health, wellness, they all work together in a space where they can easily communicate to each other about our customers, those who come to us. Originally, it was really intended for 14. (It) moved to 40 staff and employees and at the present time, we have 75 in that space.”
Additional office space will be found in some converted apartments across the street from the wellness center, where the family and social services program will be relocated. And beyond that, toward the mouth of the Kenai river, the tribe recently finalized purchase of a piece of bluff property where it can continue to expand.
The tribal court will also undergo a substantial redesign and addition. Currently, proceedings for the Henu Wellness Court are held in a converted residential home.
“That is in the process of being renovated," Zirul said. "We’re in the beginning phases of what that will look like. We’ll incorporate the building that exists there into the space and we will expand some of our circle rooms. It’s the healing circle where a person can participate with other members of the court, of the council of the tribe, depending on what the circumstances are, to go through their situation.”
The tribe has more immediate plans for five acres at the intersection of the Spur highway and Forest Drive. Bernadine Atcheson is the tribal council’s vice chair and chair of the education committee.
“On the 27th, we’re going to have our groundbreaking. This is where we’re going to have our Kenaitze education campus.”
The campus will consist of two buildings, totalling about 30,000 square feet and approximately $10 million. One building will house Head Start and early education programs along with before and after school activities and career development programs. The other will be multi-purpose, able to host large events like the tribe’s annual meeting and potentially other non-tribal events as well. The tribe applied for federal grants to pay for much of the education center, which is slated to be open in time for classes in the fall of 2020.