UIC Construction leads initial phase of Kaktovik school rebuild 

When most of the Harold Kaveolook School burned down in February 2020, it was a big blow to the community of Kaktovik on Barter Island. The middle school, high school and gym were destroyed, leaving a small structure that has had to serve students’ needs ever since. Plans for a new facility will be rolled out in stages over the next few years.

Arctic logistics

UIC Construction is managing the initial phase: replacing soil that was contaminated during the burn and installing foundation piles for the new structure. Careful planning is necessary to mobilize when Arctic conditions are optimal. UIC Construction project manager James Ashton said that soil replacement will happen between July and October when the sea ice is melted enough for barges to bring in materials and equipment. Other work, like driving the piles themselves, must wait until February, when the ground is frozen.

Coordination between companies

Six UIC companies are involved in the project, which is a strength of the UIC Commercial Services division. “Our companies represent different specialties, and most are co-located in our Anchorage office which makes coordination that much easier,” said Clayton Arterburn, senior vice president.  “When we can join forces on a project, it’s great for us and for our clients.”

For this project, UMIAQ Design surveyors set the boundary for the soil excavation and the location of the piles. UIC Construction will dig out between 6 inches and 2.5 feet of soil over a two-acre area. UMIAQ Environmental is tracking paperwork, chain of custody, and bills of lading for the contaminated soil, ensuring that it’s tested and disposed of according to regulation. Qayaq Construction will supply the replacement soil, UIC Oil & Gas Support will lease space for storing material, and Bowhead Transport will help deliver some of the material to Kaktovik.

Custom solutions

UIC Construction has been working in remote Arctic conditions for decades, so dealing with challenging conditions isn’t new. For the Kaktovik school project, there’s a short window to remove 7,000 yards of soil. It will be placed in 7,000 specialized oil-resistant, double-walled “supersacks” weighing 4,000 pounds each. James Ashton knew there had to be a better way than moving them one at a time onto the barge. He designed a custom rack that attaches to a large loader. The rack can hook up to six supersacks at a time. Even so, it still takes 100 loader trips to fill up the barge, and it will take 13 barge runs to remove all the soil.

Local hire

This isn’t UIC Construction’s first project in Kaktovik. In fact, it built the school’s full-sized gym in 2017. “We know how important schools are, especially in smaller rural communities,” said Ashton. “We’re glad for the role we’re playing. Several local residents have hired on to the project, too. They are literally helping rebuild their town’s central community gathering place from the ground up.”

The new school building should be completed by late 2025. It will have a gym and a swimming pool in addition to more classroom space.

Construction workers and heavy equipment with soil in foreground.
UIC Construction workers guide the filling of supersacks during the initial phase of a project to rebuild the community school in Kaktovik, Alaska.
Heavy equipment loader moving with six large supersacks attached to the front
UIC Construction moves a 24,000 lb load of supersacks on a custom-built rack for a project in Kaktovik, Alaska.