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Econ 919: Bond would fix backlog of school projects


This is Econ 919, your weekly look at how the Kenai Peninsula works. I’m Jenny Neyman.

As Alaska’s economy worsened and state and local governments ratcheted back spending, one of the first things to go by the wayside was money for facility replacements and improvements. Deferred maintenance has been the order of the day, but that day is catching up to the Kenai Peninsula Borough and school district.

The borough assembly and school board met in a joint session Tuesday to talk about a $30 million bond proposal they plan to put to voters this fall. 

“As you well know, the days of sending in our top 10 capital priorities request through our Legislature through Juneau is probably a thing of the past,” said Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce.

There are 18 projects on the bond list at schools across the district. They fall into five categories, roof replacements, replacement of exterior windows and repairs to exterior walls, replacing boilers and building HVAC controls, building a new school in Kachemak Selo and expanding the kitchen at Kenai Middle.

Some of the windows on the list haven’t been replaced since the 1960s or ‘70s.

“There’s going to be rot in the walls. Because we’ve had penetrations that have been leaking. He’s going to have to replace, probably, likely, some studs and other things that are in those walls. We’re experiencing some of the consequences of our inaction,” said Kevin Lyon, director of planning and operations for the district. 

The building control systems have well exceeded their 20-year lifespans.

“I don’t know how many of you are still running a 20-year old computer. I want you to think about it — the system is based on when DOS 2.0 came out, Word 1. This was state of the art computers back then and that is what is protecting right now a $65 million building,” Lyon said. 

Case in point is Homer High School, with a 36-year-old system. Over Christmas break, the system malfunctioned, shutting off the heat and opening air vents to an area of the building.

“It froze, a sprinkler pipe fell through the ceiling, landed on the floor, no kids were present, it was vacation,” Lyon said. “Scott’s group was on site for another project. Thank goodness they stopped that flood. It would have destroyed the entire theater. … We dodged a huge bullet.”

A little over $2 million would go to a safety project to install key card access at schools across the district.

The most expensive item on the list, $8.2 million, is replacing the roof at Homer High.

The Kachemak Selo project is next, at about $5.4 million. That’s the only one to be guaranteed state reimbursement, as the Legislature already approved putting in $10 million if the borough comes up with a 35 percent match. Lyon says the building can’t wait any longer. 

“We’re now at a point where, with no snow on the roof, we’re exceeding the roof capacity by 2.6 times its allowable. So we have a school in Alaska right now that cannot have snow on the roof while I have students in the building,” Lyon said.

The borough will manage the projects so that they remain eligible for state funding, if grants or bond reimbursement becomes available again. But Lyon cautions against waiting for the Legislature to come to the rescue. 

“Schools play a very important role in the community from recreation opportunities and adult education to emergency shelters and places to hold public meetings, as we found out this summer with the fires that were going on,” Lyon said. “Schools are at the center of a community. Our goal and I guess it was Goldilocks here that would do this is to get a bond package that is not too big, not too small but just right so that we can keep our facilities ready to meet not only the needs of our students but the needs of the community, as well.”

The cost of a $30 million bond in taxes to borough residents would be about .28 mills, or $27.80 per $100,000 of assessed value of property.

Today’s number is $103.18. That’s the estimated amount of inflation in construction costs since 2001. The borough’s bond to build Seward Middle School in 2010 was $14.7 million. Today, Lyon estimates the same project would cost around $27.8 million.

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