Saving History

Riverboat Nenana bid too high, repairs delayed

A restoration project on the Riverboat Nenana is delayed after the bid for repairs was almost $1 million higher than expected.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough is repackaging the project, reworking estimates and preparing to rebid it this fall. Design Alaska is the consultant.

“This is not a typical building,” said Jonathan Shambare, who manages design and construction for the borough’s Public Works Department.

Shambare and others briefed the Historic Preservation Commission on the state of the restoration project last week.

The Riverboat Nenana is famous for plying Interior Alaska rivers in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s and is now a main attraction at Pioneer Park. It has been closed to tours since 2018 due to safety concerns. The Borough Assembly allocated about $3 million for initial restorations by shoring up the structure, waterproofing it and bringing the cargo deck, which houses a large diorama, into compliance with building codes. A second phase of $7 million worth of work, pending assembly approval, is planned.

Where officials had hoped to complete a partial restoration and reopen the Nenana to tours as soon as later this year, they are now looking at 2023 or 2024, Shambare said.

“We may have to move some items that we thought we were going to be doing in phase one to phase two,” he said.

Marko Stepovich is the project engineer. He said some of the items that came in higher than expected were waterproofing, replacing decks and painting.

Shambare explained how the bidding process unfolded. The bid opening was April 20. Shambare said 49 people downloaded bidding documents. The borough anticipated receiving as many was 12 responses. Only one bid was submitted. The borough anticipated bids of around $2.1 million but the single bid was much higher.

“Our bidding process was not what we anticipated,” Shambare said. “The bid was way higher than we can afford.”

Once known as the Queen of the Yukon, the riverboat was previously restored in an effort that started in the late 1980s and cost almost $2 million.

The Nenana is one of only three steam-powered passenger sternwheelers left in the country and the only large wooden sternwheeler, according to the National Park Service. The boat is one of three national landmarks in Fairbanks. The other two are Ladd Field and the George C. Thomas Memorial Library.

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