Originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District leadership is exploring the most important infrastructure projects in local schools as part of its Six-Year Capital Improvement Plan, that will run from 2020–2025.
At Monday’s Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education’s work session, members discussed roofing projects, a new track, a new school and other projects. The plan is still in the works and will be approved by the board members at a later date.
The capital plan’s highest priority is addressing overcrowding at Nanwalek school.
Built in 1958 by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the school has received two additions in 1977 and 1984. According to 2010 census data, Nanwalek’s population is 254, more than twice as many people recorded in the 1980 census. According to the Six-Year Capital Improvement Plan, Nanwalek School is at 140 percent capacity, with next year’s expectations at 175 percent capacity. The school services students in kindergarten through 12th grade. There are currently more than 80 students, with approximately half in the elementary and half in secondary.
The board discussed two options. The first option, which is being recommended by the district administrators, is to build a joint middle and high school facility that would cost approximately $25 million, according to the plan’s projections.
The second option is to build two 960 square foot annexes that could provide classroom space for up to 23 students. The district administrators estimate the cost to be about $250,000 for each annex, due to travel and construction costs in an area with no harbor.
“There’s a definite need for a new facility,” David May, director of planning and operations with the district, said. “We expect that the overcrowding at the school will just increase and that by adding a classroom is not going to solve the problem. It’s just a temporary solution for a long-term need.”
Board member Dan Castimore said that the district should also consider dealing with other schools that are overcrowding.
“My only concern looking at this list is that we’re dealing with overcrowding in our schools in Mountain View,” Castimore said. “They had to add a portable this summer. I’m just worried we’re skipping over things like dealing with Mountain View’s overcrowding… I wanna make sure we look at all of our schools. Also with the six-year plan, I noticed there are things on here like, let’s build a new track for Seward High School for $3 million. Somehow that scores higher than finding a place to house our students.”
Dusek said the district plans to work with the community in understanding the project before any grant applications are sent to the state.
“My understanding is that we have it at number one because (Nanwalek) needs a new school, but we’re not applying for it this year because the community in Nanwalek is looking to expand and potentially have a whole different location on the property,” Dusek said. “It is the administration’s belief that this is our number one project and that’s our recommendation, but we aren’t gonna apply for it through the Department of Education and Early Development grant this year until we continue and there’s a lot of work to do with the community before we apply for the project.”
May is working on a comprehensive analysis of the district’s school infrastructure that will be used to make judgments on future capital projects. May said that 25 percent of the district’s schools are 50 years or older, and 80 percent are over 30 years old.
“Our schools are at the edge of their useful life, many of our schools,” Superintendent Sean Dusek said. “Certainly we don’t want to place undue burden on our taxpayers, but we are going to need some upgrades and certainly every area is going to be touched with that.”
Kenai Peninsula Borough voters will consider a bond package in the Oct. 3 election that would go to fund a new school building in the Old Believer Russian village of Kachemak Selo, east of Homer. The $5.45 million bond issue would allow the borough to access approximately $10.5 million in state grant funds to pay for the construction of a new school facility.
There are 23 projects up for consideration, including some that plan to upgrade district-wide security and office remodels, a roof ventilation upgrade at Homer High School, a roof insulation upgrade at Redoubt Elementary, moisture sealing on the east wall of West Homer Elementary and replacing the gym floor at Kaleidoscope School and Redoubt Elementary.
A final list of potential projects for the board to consider will be presented in September. Once the board approves the plan, applications for specific projects will be sent at the appropriate time to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.