This week, we’re taking a look at a long-awaited capitol project that voters will decide on during the fall elections. A new school at Kachemak-Selo.
A borough ballot proposition will ask voters across the Kenai to fund a portion of the construction cost for a new school in the remote community that, technically, is on the road system, but not practically.
Kachemak-Selo’s former principal, Tim Whip, lobbied for the ballot proposition at this week’s meeting of the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce. He described the ways in which the three buildings that make up the school have fallen into disrepair since they were built more than three decades ago. They were only supposed to be temporary.
“We have a lot of settling going on. One part of the school is actually sinking into the ground. The pilings were probably old logs, I’m not sure. I’ve never crawled under there. I refuse to. There’s a slope in the buildling that’s probably about 6-8 inches in 10 feet. You roll your chair in one corner and pretty soon, you’re over by the window. As the principal maintenance guy, at least two or three times a year I’ve been changing the strikers on the doors to move with the building.”
That’s only part of it. Proposals like this make their way onto the ballot only after they’ve been approved by the borough assembly. During those hearings, several students and parents from the village made the trek to Soldotna to talk about the dilapidated condition of the buildings they spend their school days in, where you can see daylight through the walls and the ceilings as the structures continue to settle.
Whip says another thing to consider, especially regarding those unwanted skylights, is heating costs. The buildings, of course, have to be kept warm with electricity. There’s no natural gas there and oil or propane deliveries would be out of the question because calling the path to the school a road is...pretty generous.
"You drive down switchbacks there, and that's always kind of exciting, especially in the winter. The other thing that's important to remember is this is all electric heat. It’s very expensive for the school district to heat these buildings. I think with new buildings and some energy saving processes, we can save quite a bit of money on heating.”
So, what’ll it cost? If the ballot proposition passes, it will cost borough residents a shade under $5.5 million. That pencils out to an annual bill of $4.95 per $100,000 of assessed property value and that includes, according to the language on the ballot, planning, design, site acquisition, preparing and developing that site, then finally building and outfitting the new school with windows to the world placed only where the architects want them. Whip and others have been lobbying so hard on this because the $5 million price tag goes up substantially after this year.
“The funding for the school is time sensitive. This is the third year of a three year grant. The village worked tirelessly to get a $10 million grant from the state three years ago and it’s been with the borough and the school district since then. The state says we’ll pay two-thirds of the cost of the school, but the borough has to come up with one third, so that’s where that $5 million bonding issue comes in.”
And the school’s going to get built one way or another. The buildings are simply becoming unsafe for students, teachers and staff, and this is one way to get a little discount. Whip says the number of students has been steady the past several years, hovering just below 50, and that number is expected to grow with new, young families moving into the village. That ballot question will be settled on October 2nd.
This week’s number: 1,048. That would be the current rig count across the United States for oil and gas drilling rigs, about 100 more than were operating a year ago. About half of those are in Texas. Six are in Alaska, which is two more than were operating last year. The lowest number of rigs came just two years ago, when only 400 were operating across the country. The peak came in 1981, when more than 4,000 were online.