Project Update: Reaching out in Mat-Su

by Kevin Klott

At 11 a.m. on May 18, the new Mat-Su Health Foundation Building is set to open its doors to the public with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. For generations, these kind of ceremonies have symbolized the start of something new.

For the Mat-Su Health Foundation, this event will represent a gift to the community and visible support of its mission to improve the health and wellness of Alaskans living in the Mat-Su.

“Whether you are in Willow or Trapper Creek or Chickaloon, you will be able to connect with the resource center and have a conversation with someone about your needs,” said Elizabeth Ripley, the CEO of Mat-Su Health Foundation.

MSHF is a 501(c)(3) public charity nonprofit that used to operate the old Valley Hospital in Palmer. The nonprofit entered into an LLC partnership with a for-profit proprietary company to build Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, which became a partnership that governs the hospital. MSHF’s mission is to offer “financial and strategic support to well-managed 501(c)(3) organizations that offer services and practical solutions to significant health-related problems impacting the citizens of the Mat-Su Borough.”

“We take our share of the profits from the hospital and invest it back into the community,” Ripley said. “Most people know us as a grant-maker. We do make a lot of grants, but we also have this hospital governance piece that helps fuel the grants.”

Through its partnership with the hospital, MSHF recently acquired 3.7 acres of wooded land near the corner of Bogard Road and Crusey Street in the heart of Wasilla. The land was used to build a 46,000-square-foot structure that would not only house the foundation staff but also build community by dedicating space for residents to receive support, information and referrals to local services.

‘A real unique look’

The $9 million, two-story building was designed by Architects Alaska and consists of two building blocks that are 20,000 square feet each. They are connected by a 6,000-square-foot center core where the electrical and mechanical operations are housed.

The building has a concrete foundation and steel frame, said Butch Ehmann, owner of F-E Contracting Inc. and the general contractor selected for the project. What makes the design of the building stand out, Ehmann said, is the butterfly roof, which is made of glue-laminated beams and exposed 6-inch wood decking.

“It gives the building a real unique look,” Ehmann said.

F-E Contracting was selected for the project in April 2017 and immediately started working with thedesign team.

“We came on board and helped move the conceptual design to 65 percent, then to 100 percent,” Ehmann said. “During the design development, we worked closely with Mat-Su Health Foundation and the design team, making adjustments to keep within the budget.”

Adjustments to keep the project on budget included site work, the roof, the steel, the building envelope and some exposed interior finish items.

“It was a fairly tight schedule so we had to work quickly,” Ehmann said. “The overall quality and aesthetics of the building are something we are proud of. Mat-Su Health Foundation has been really good to work with. I think they are excited and proud of the project, and we are too.”

Connecting Mat-Su

The overall design of the building is a direct reflection of MSHF’s vision toward building a healthier community.

“One of the ways we operate here at the Mat-Su Health Foundation is we do our homework,” Ripley said. “We like to do our research and understand how you create a healthier community.”

The foundation looked at the evidence, the research, the problems Mat-Su residents face, and juxtaposed those findings with the building design.

The design team also realized that many residents might never walk into the building because of the location and the size of the Mat-Su Borough, so the foundation has a phased implementation plan for connecting outlying residents to resources. The first phase is the building. The second phase will be a mobile app, a website and a virtual presence. The third phase will be networking the resource center to the outlying areas of the borough.

Robin Minard, the MSHF director of public affairs, said the foundation’s staff has grown from seven to 18 in the past five years.

“We’ve been using space in the Mat-Su Regional Outpatient Center, but we’re growing and needing more room,” she said.

Even so, if the building’s only purpose was to house the foundation’s staff, it would be too much space. Instead, the 46,000 square-foot building represents a $9 million investment for the people of Mat-Su Borough.

“This building is part of us giving back to the community,” she said.