A Million for Mary Siah

Mar 15, 2019

A million dollars for helping the Mary Siah Recreation Center get through the next five years was passed last night by the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly. Bids for the repair job go out in a few months and work will probably start in the fall.


Public Works director Daniel Sloan went down a sad list of things identified as life and safety concerns for the swimming pool and exercise facility.

“Emergency lighting is non-existent or insufficient in many areas, pool deck waste piping is at the point of failure, fire sprinkler system coverage is not provided on the first floor or the mezzanine levels.”   

Some of the price tag for these limited repairs had already been allocated by a previous assembly - $412,417 worth. So Mayor Bryce Ward has moved ahead with a design team so that a bid package could be put together. But that left $1,043,038 to be approved by the Assembly. Citizens involved with the Friends of Mary Siah showed up in force to ask the Assembly to vote yes.

“The building has served people that may not be represented the most in Fairbanks: handicapped, whether it be mental or physical, those who have physical disabilities, those who are going through rehab.”

Victor Siah is the building’s namesake’s nephew.

Credit Robyne / KUAC

Phyllis Tugman-Alexander told the Assembly the user population for Mary Siah would not easily adapt to the larger athletic facility at nearby Hamme pool.

“There’s handrails all the way out to the pool at Mary Siah, there’s handrails in all the bathrooms. And we have several people that could use handrails all the way out to the pool, at Hamme Pool.”

But Mike Prax commented that a decision to extend the life of Mary Siah would make the whole community pay for one group’s need.

“Well, it’s not the government’s job to provide happiness; that would be up to us. People who want recreational facilities, they ought to pay for their own recreational facilities.”

Scott Calder said Mary Siah was a cultural institution and worth broad community support.

“I agree with the idea that public resources are removed from citizens. I think you have to have a really important reason to do that. It’s a worthy thing. It’s definitely a priority that’s worth a million dollars, and/or some subsidization.”

Assembly member Aaron Lojewski (la-jeh-skee) cautioned the Assembly that an additional million for Mary Siah, means a million less spent somewhere else. And Leah Berman-Williams said the fix is temporary.

“The cost/benefit analysis on Mary Siah is on the edge of ‘should we fix this.’ It’s not clear that continuing to tape Mar Siah Rec Center together is going to be a good long-term strategy. But, this is what we need to do right now.”

When it came time to vote, the Assembly passed the measure 6-1.