Stone by stone, parts of the old school are picked apart. Six men from Tajikistan, two of them with helmets, are working to clear the way for a new tourist and post office.
In recent years, Barentsburg has resembled more and more of a big construction site. Now, General Director Alexander P. Veselov is discussing his ambitious goals.
"In three to four years we are aiming that tourism will be greater than coal mining in Barentsburg," he said. "Before that can happen we need a total renovation of the whole city. And that we are well underway with."
Preparations have been underway for several years. The apartment blocks are being renovated one by one, the culture center is almost completely renovated and work is progressing steadily at the hotel. The accommodation capacity is considerably larger and will be further increased.
"In addition to the hotel we have built a hostel, a cheaper accommodation option," Veselov said. "We are in the process of building another one of the same kind and we hope it will be operational by the end of the year."
Those who have been a little frustrated by the few opportunities to spend money in Barentsburg have also been heard.
"We have started with piling on what will be a shopping center of 900 square meters with a large product range. It should be possible to use credit cards and cash, and I think the prices will be quite low compared to Longyearbyen," Veselov said smiling, adding:
"I think it should be possible to buy lunch in Barentsburg for what it costs for a cup of coffee at Fruene."
The Trust has lost money on coal mining for many years, but the company is planning to continue coal mining operations, especially for their own use.
"As in Longyearbyen, coal mining is a foundation and a landmark in itself," Veselov said. "But we want to have more legs to stand on, and tourism is a good alternative. We have coal reserves to maintain operations at current levels for about 20 years. Then we'll see if the plan for a new mine in Grumant can be realized."
The general director admits smoothly there is something unusual and perhaps even strange about a coal company turning to tourism as a livelihood.
The Trust is in the process of recruiting a total of six guides to be distributed in Barentsburg, Pyramiden and for tour activities. They have purchased three boats and ten snowmobiles. In addition, a large house has been built for the company in Longyearbyen. What the total investment will eventually be is not yet know to Veselov. But he said he knows it will be expensive.
"We've done a lot with our own crews, which makes it cheaper for us," he said. "The only thing we have hired an external company for is to do exterior work and work on the remote heating system in Barentsburg."
"And so it is very much cheaper to do things in Barentsburg than in Longyearbyen," he added. "The trust's housing building in Longyearbyen of 400 square meters is estimated to cost about 11 million kroner. By comparison, we have completely renovated the hotel in Barentsburg for 17 million kroner."
Veselov was in Longyearbyen last week in connection with the restructuring process. A delegation from the Russian tourism industry had inspected Barentsburg and took some pictures in Longyearbyen as well. The feedback from the market has been good and that is why the trust is investing so aggressively.
"The tourism industry in Russia has responded positively to having the Arctic as a destination," said Veselov, who also will present the tourism project to leading Japanese tour operators. "Many wealthy people consider the place exotic and will see this part of the world. Personally I think it would also be positive for Longyearbyen. Few will travel to Svalbard without also visiting the Norwegian part."
Does he think Russians and others will consider Svalbard too expensive?
"It will not be that expensive in Barentsburg," he said. "But those who come here know well enough that the Arctic is definitely not a cheap area to vacation in."
Clinging to the status quo
The Russians have increasingly been conducting research, with Barentsburg as a headquarters. This is an activity Veselov said he also believes will increase in coming years.
Are there more people in Barentsburg as a result of the changes being made?
"I don't see for myself that there are more residents," he said. "With large and small, there are now 530 inhabitants in Barentsburg and that I think will remain consistent. Tourism is also a seasonal business where you will have peaks and troughs. But generally I think the population will remain stable at current levels."