The new Nullaġvik
The Hotel that NANA Built
What you first notice, from a distance, is its size. The new Nullaġvik Hotel is the tallest building in Kotzebue, which is the largest village in the NANA region and a transportation and services hub.
Owned by NANA, the $40 million hotel took two years to build. At four-stories and 47,445 square feet, it dwarfs the old hotel next door, which it replaced.
In Iñupiaq, the word Nullaġvik means “a place to rest.” The new hotel offers 78 guest rooms, including seven suites; a high-tech meeting room for up to 100 people; a comfortable, observation lounge with a sweeping view of Kotzebue Sound; a well-equipped fitness center; and a full-service restaurant.
“Yesterday my family embarked on an epic journey,” writes Maija Lukin in her blog. “We seemingly left our little town of Kotzebue and entered into another world… A world where elevators bring you to your destination…”
An interior design that reflects the owners
Inside, the hotel is light and airy. Almost every room has a view. “Our goal was to create an inviting, comfortable hotel that reflects its owners,” said Chris Teich, the project lead. The interior design is inspired by the Iñupiaq culture of the hotel’s owners, and the natural surroundings of its unique location.
Original artwork was commissioned for the public spaces. Roswell Schaeffer, Sr.’s wood relief carving reflects his keen knowledge of his Iñupiaq culture, the animals he hunts for subsistence and the traditional values associated with these hunts. Artist Sandy Stolle has lived in Alaska since 1976, spending 12 of those years in the village of Selawik. Her carving reflects her experiences in the NANA region, especially the joy she felt in seeing migratory birds return in the spring. “Waiting and Watching the Caribou Return” is the theme Iñupiaq artist Aakatchaq depicted in her stylized aluminum and wood sculpture. Photographs of the people and places in the NANA region decorate the hotel’s guest rooms, corridors, meeting and dining rooms.
The new hotel will be both a central gathering place for the community and one of the first impressions of many visitors from outside the NANA region. Special thought and care went into the crafting of an interior design that combines traditional artistic elements with contemporary comforts and services.
NANA companies came together to make it happen
“The hotel is an example of our companies working together to help northwest Alaska by developing the infrastructure necessary to grow,” said Helvi Sandvik, NANA Development Corporation (NDC) president.
NDC financed the project and several of its companies were involved. WHPacific provided the architectural and interior design, as well as the structural and electrical engineering design, NANA WorleyParsons assisted with the mechanical design, DOWL HKM was responsible for civil engineering, and NANA Construction oversaw the hotel construction and managed the general contractor—SKW Eskimos, a subsidiary of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation. Upon its completion, NMS took over the daily operation of the new property— managing both the hotel and restaurant.
A quantum leap into a new century
The original Nullaġvik Hotel was built in 1975. “The old hotel was noisy, drafty, and looked tired,” said Bill Kontess, the director of the buildings division of WHPacific. “It was either too hot or too cold.”
In the new hotel, the guest rooms are programmed to stay within a prescribed temperature range. There is energy-efficient lighting with motion sensors in multiple spaces so that the lights are off when the spaces are unoccupied. The equipment in the hotel—from boilers to laundry room washers and dryers—is also “green.” Energy-efficient, high R-value floors, walls and ceilings should help keep costs down.
State-of-the-art communications technologies, including the equipment in the business and conference center, link guests to the rest of the world. When guests aren’t looking at the view from the observation lounge, they can focus on the 65-inch 3-D television. This TV choice is one example of future-proofing the hotel—using the latest technology, and anticipating further developments.
In terms of safety and privacy, the new hotel meets all current industry standards for soundproofing and code requirements for incorporating fire-rated materials and sprinkler systems.
One of the harshest climates on Earth
Building a hotel as sophisticated and smart as the Nullaġvik would be a challenge anywhere, but to do it in such a remote and extreme environment such as this requires strategy and innovation. Kotzebue is located approximately 26 miles above the Arctic Circle and 549 air miles from Anchorage. No roads connect Kotzebue to the rest of the state; everything arrives by plane or by barge, and the barges only operate during July, August and September. “To make these barge times,” said Bob Koski, the NANA Construction project manager, “planning must be done and coordinated a year in advance. If not, everything must be flown in, which is an extreme cost factor.”
Arctic years are like dog-years; arctic buildings age faster. One of the toughest challenges the companies faced was to build a hotel that could withstand one of the harshest climates on Earth. In winter, snow flies sideways and gusts of wind can reach 90 mph. “We needed to build a hotel that would last in a very harsh environment,” said Kontess. “In summer, the building is exposed to 24 hours of intense sunshine, and our studies had shown that many rooms would heat up to over 85 degrees Fahrenheit.” The new hotel is air-conditioned.
The environment—and physical location of the hotel—dictated most of the construction techniques and materials choices. The design team selected maintenance-free or low maintenance finish materials, from vinyl flooring that looks like rustic planks, to high-quality carpet tiles in patterns to replicate traditional designs. “Fixtures and furniture are of a commercial, heavy-duty grade,” said Kontess. “Interior walls have corner guards and chair rails to cut down on scuffing.” From the outside, proportionately, the windows look small, but like most of the design decisions for the hotel that was intentional; it was a functional choice, for energy efficiency.
Building in this extreme environment and remote location starts from the frozen ground up. Dealing with permafrost (permanently frozen ground) presents its own unique challenges. On this project, site preparation involved the teardown of an old store on the lot. Once the old building and snowdrifts were removed, layers of ridged insulation were laid across the ground then covered with new gravel. The hotel is built on 162 structural columns (thermopiles), gas charged and frozen in place. “This process took months to accomplish before the structure could be fully loaded on the piles,” said Koski. “Before installation of the piles, the ground needed to be refrozen and that meant drawing heat out of the ground using thermo siphons. It had to be done during the dead of winter to achieve full freeze back.”
The next challenge was to erect the four-story hotel over a five-foot crawl space designed to accommodate electrical and mechanical piping and air handling systems. “Here 90 percent of the building is above 10 feet from the ground to heights over 70 feet,” said Koski. “This could potentially be a dangerous height for crews working on scaffolding in sub-zero temperatures. With proper training, the right clothing, gear and equipment—and with daily monitoring and site supervision by the project managers—these safety practices and procedures resulted in a successful project of over 93,500 man hours with no lost time accidents. Kudos to the contractors and crew!”
“Are we in Kotzebue?”
“We know the new Nullaġvik Hotel will bring a whole new dimension to the community,” said Lisa Wright, the general manager. “And we are proud and honored to be part of both the community and the hotel.”
“We wanted our board members to have the first opportunity to stay in the hotel before it officially opened,” said Chris Teich, former NDC vice president of real estate and hotel development. Board member Dood Lincoln, whose own house is only a few doors down, spent a night in the hotel and said, “When I woke up in that beautiful room, I forgot I was in Kotzebue.”
“Our old hotel had served us for many years, but it needed to be replaced,” said Luke Sampson, NDC board chairman. “This new hotel will continue to serve our people and those traveling though our regional hub. This is an important investment that NANA has made to continue to support the economy and the needs of our people.”
“With the new hotel, we find that people who deliver vital services to the region are planning their trips and intentionally staying overnight,” said Sandvik. “We’ve heard more than once, ‘I’m going to like staying here. I’m going to come more often.’”
For more Information about Nullaġvik Hotel view their site.