Bonds are back on the table.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough is again considering a $29,940,000 bond to fund 19 maintenance projects in the school district, ranging from building a new school in Kachemak Selo to updating decades-old building automation systems.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and borough planned on putting that proposal to a vote this fall, but things were delayed because of COVID-19.
At a Tuesday work session between the borough assembly and school board, Kevin Lyon, director of planning and operations for the district, said the projects can’t wait any longer.
“So, a question that comes up is, ‘Why so much?’ so we want to look at the situation so you can really understand the problem really is three-fold," he said.
First, construction costs continue to inflate. As time goes on, those projects become more expensive. KPBSD is also a big district, with 42 schools. The projects on the table will impact 38 of them.
Facilities are aging. Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones says that makes fast action more necessary.
“We have put ourselves in a position that we can no longer afford to say, ‘This is a good time, this is not a good time,'" he said. "When we look at these $30 million worth of projects that we’re trying to bring forth and do, if we do not fix these, we’re going to have system failures and that will cost us a lot more than deciding if it’s a good time to take these bonds to market or not.”
One of the more expensive projects that would be partially financed by the bond, for $5.39 million, is the new school in Kachemak Selo. The current facilities were meant to be temporary and have fallen into disrepair.
The state already approved a match of $10 million for the Kachemak Selo project but the borough has to come up with a 35 percent match.
Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce wasn’t sold. He thinks the district should spend less on a new building.
“We need to build a building in K-Selo. I believe that. My heart’s there, I believe that," he said. "But we need to do it smarter, we need to do it the right way. And the board of education needs to get off their ed specs and lock us into a two-million-barrel-of-oil-a-day budget design plan and deal with where we are today in Alaska.”
He said he is writing a letter to Soldotna Sen. Peter Micciche to request that the state free up the $10 million its promised.
“Give us the $10 million with no strings attached for educational repair purposes," Pierce said. "We’ll go build the building in K-Selo, and then we’ll take the balance of the money, the $10 million, and we’ll go build the roof in Homer. How’s that.”
Superintendent John O’Brien said he doesn’t think that would work.
“And I believe if you can get the Legislature to change the statutes as they exist to do what you’re asking to do, then kudos to you and we’ll work with you on that," he said. "But until that point in time, we certainly do have many, many other projects that need to be advanced.”
If approved by the borough assembly, the bond proposal would go before voters in October. The district estimates the cost of the bond in taxes to residents would be about $27.80 cents per $100,000 of assessed value of property.