Cook Inlet Native Head Start Expansion

Cook Inlet Native Head Start (CINHS) is a non-profit Tribal entity with a mission to “build strong foundations with Alaska Native Families through Alaska Native cultures and education.” CINHS had two existing facilities in Anchorage, Alaska, where they provide Head Start and Early Head Start education; both of these facilities were at capacity. CINHS applied for and received two grants from the Federal Office of Head Start to expand their Head Start and Early Head Start facilities to provide better services to Anchorage low-income families.

Coffman served as the Owner’s Project Manager and provided civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, and landscape architecture for this $9M new 20,000 sf childhood development center for 126 children ages six weeks to five years. In the initial stages, Coffman developed a project budget, including administrative costs, land acquisition costs, design fees, construction costs, utility fees, permitting fees, contingencies, etc. Upon establishing a total project budget, the team facilitated a design charrette which established a program for the building, selected a site, and identified goals for the project.

The facility includes eight classrooms, eight offices, storage, a garage/maintenance room, conference room, reception area, gymnasium, commercial kitchen, staff lounge, laundry, intercom, keyless entry system, stroller/car seat storage, and handicap access. Safety features include closed-circuit television (CCTV), emergency monitoring and control systems, alarm system, fire sprinkler, life safety egress, and security fencing. The space also includes a 23,000 sf Early Head Start and Head Start playgrounds adjoining the building.

Culturally-focused facility

CINHS is one of the first programs in the State that integrates Alaska Native cultural education with western education practices in a space intentionally inspired by the cultures of Alaska’s First People. This cultural integration is founded on immersing children in a setting that reflects each of the five cultural groups of Alaska. As the project manager, Coffman was instrumental in helping CINHS weave cultural elements into the built environment.

Cultural design elements included an earth-tone color palette, plants and animals from each region, and signage with languages from each region. The classrooms are designed around a traditional plank house and fire pit with the fire pit at the center of the room. The classrooms have direct access to the outdoor playgrounds and provide an outdoor learning environment for children to develop traditional cultural values of hunting and fishing. 


With the program established, Coffman PM and landscape architect Ed Leonetti, PLA, worked closely with CINHS leadership to establish the preferred construction delivery method and selected the CM/GC project delivery method. Due to a compressed project schedule, the CM/GC process enabled the project to stay on scope, schedule, and budget. The design team and contractor met weekly through the design phase and collaborated on the most cost-effective approach to designing and constructing the building. The project was safely executed with remote work and onsite construction precautions since COVID started and was completed in early 2021.

Structural Design

The superstructure was designed using a combination of dimensional and engineered lumber. The roof was constructed using open web joists with wood chords and metal webs to span the full length of the larger classrooms efficiently. Roof joists were laid out radially to accommodate the curved architectural plan. Exposed tongue and groove decking and glued-laminated framing members were used in select locations for the desired aesthetic. A seismic joint separated the Head Start curved classroom wing from the gymnasium because of the diaphragm discontinuity. LVL-engineered wood studs were designed for taller walls, where sawn lumber because impractical. Despite the project’s size and complexity, it was approved by the Municipality of Anchorage Building Safety structural plan reviewer with little comment.

Playground Design

The facility includes 23,000 sf of Early Head Start and Head Start playgrounds adjoining the building. The playgrounds resemble a fish camp and the other a bird camp and feature custom structures like a bird’s nest, a sod house, and climbing whales which allow teachers to share stories related to the playground environment.


  • Education
  • Civic & Local Government


  • Project Management
  • Civil Engineering
  • Structural Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Landscape Architecture
  • Lighting Design