The Associated General Contractors of Alaska logo
AWAIC’s Safe Spaces Project Nears Completion
Expansion adds much-needed capacity to domestic violence service provider
By Rachael Kvapil

earl-Grace Pantaleone learned about Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC) in the most heartbreaking way. In 2014, while working as a crime reporter for the local FOX station, she received news that her friend Brianna Moore was killed in a domestic violence dispute.

“That was such an impactful moment for me,” says Pantaleone, who is now the Business Development & Marketing Manager for Cornerstone General Contractors. “I started volunteering with the organization after that story.”

Cornerstone was on track to complete the construction and renovation project known as “Safe Spaces: Building a New Tomorrow” for Anchorage’s only domestic violence shelter by the end of 2020. The newly constructed 7,000-square-foot addition and 4,000-square-foot renovation provides much-needed donation processing and meeting space while a separate renovation will increase bed capacity by fifteen and program offices by six. The renovation also creates three new intake rooms and additional office space, which increases privacy for participants. Prior to that, offices were shared. Suzi Pearson, executive director of AWAIC, says the organization has needed additional space for nearly a decade.

“For the last 10 years our 52-bed shelter has been at or over capacity,” says Pearson. She says the shelter is at or over capacity 46.75 percent of the year.

Investing in a valuable state resource
AWAIC is the second-largest domestic violence service provider in the state. It began as a safe home program in 1977 to provide quality emergency and support services to individuals affected by domestic violence.

With a mission to provide domestic violence safe shelter, intervention, and prevention, AWAIC attempts to break the cycle of violence for participants and their children through support and advocacy for all family members. Likewise, it provides case management and confidential individual and group support for those who have experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse in their personal relationships or with family. It also maintains a 24-hour crisis line (907-272-0100).

Safe Spaces: Building a New Tomorrow Expansion Concept
AWAIC began working on the “Safe Spaces: Building a New Tomorrow” expansion project in 2014. When completed it will increase office space and shelter capacity within the facility.
AWAIC started developing an expansion plan in 2014. As a member of the Foraker Group, Pearson says AWAIC relied on the philanthropic group’s assistance to assess their needs, estimate costs, and identify good working partnerships. The total cost for the project is $4.6 million, with funding coming from $1 million in State of Alaska seed money, various fundraising events, and CARES Act assistance. Pantaleone says Cornerstone and its subcontractors provided a price reduction of between two and five percent on materials and labor to make the project more affordable.
Continuous operation of the shelter posed challenges
The project’s first phase, completed in July, included demolishing the existing North Wing down to the foundation and building a new, larger-footprint foundation that encapsulates the existing section. Crews added an elevator pit to the existing foundation and tied the old and new foundations together with a wood floor-joist structure.

The second phase, on track to wrap up by the end of 2020, includes upgrading structural components of a separate area such as steel columns, hold downs, and roof trusses where added snow load is anticipated. Crews will also upgrade security cameras, door access systems, and internal intercoms.

Toni Link, Cornerstone superintendent, says this project presented three unique challenges: completing onsite work without disrupting AWAIC’s daily operations, ensuring the security of AWAIC’s participants, and managing COVID-19 mandates.

Tackling the first challenge took “creativity, coordination, some additional construction” Link says, especially during the second phase of the project. Since the remodel cut off access from the new office facility to the existing shelter area, crews had to construct a temporary hallway for safe passage that still allowed ongoing construction on both sides.

“It was a success due to the flexibility of AWAIC’s senior staff, innovative thinking from the construction team, and everyone looking out for the safety of one another,” Link says.

Cornerstone General Contractors finishing up a construction and renovation project
After officially breaking ground in Summer 2019, Cornerstone General Contractors is finishing up the construction and renovation project.
The second main challenge was the additional documentation required to maintain AWAIC’s high level of security for people sheltered at the facility. Link says every construction worker onsite was photographed, labeled, and added to a binder that was given to AWAIC staff for reference. The shelter’s exterior doors remained locked at all times.

As far as the pandemic is concerned, Link says the company had to revisit a number of points in its standard safe operating procedures. He worked with Cornerstone’s Safety Officer Randee Johnson and the rest of the management team to create best practices for implementing local and state regulations.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreak only highlighted AWAIC’s need for more bed space. Currently, it has reduced the shelter to half capacity to keep participants safe and healthy. Families are allowed to occupy an entire room together, while two single people can share a room and still have enough space to safely socially distance.

Pearson says about 5 percent of people seeking their services are men. Currently, AWAIC shelters males in off-site hotels, since some women at the facility are uneasy with men nearby. This makes it difficult for men to access the organization’s programs and services. AWAIC hopes to change that by allocating three of the fifteen new bedrooms for male participants, which will allow them to stay on campus in a private area.

Rachael Kvapil is a freelance writer who lives in Fairbanks. Pantaleone All photos courtesy of Cornerstone General Contractors.