Originally published in the Peninsula Clarion
Efforts to build an appropriate school in Kachemak-Selo are still going strong.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly passed an ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting to work on extending the state agreement for their grant share of approximately $10 million for the school.
K-Selo has been in need of a new school for nearly 10 years. In 2011, the village petitioned the school board for a new facility. In 2016, the state appropriated $10,010,000 for construction of the school, but in order to proceed the borough needed to provide a match. Borough residents voted down the match bond package, which was nearly $5.5 million, last October.
The $10 million grant the borough received from the state expires June 30. Tuesday’s ordinance allows borough Mayor Charlie Pierce to work with the state on extending the grant deadline for up to seven years. Given the extension, the ordinance says the borough will have more time to find the 35 percent match funds required by the grant to construct the school.
The current school in Kachemak-Selo is made up of three borough-leased buildings and serves about 46 students. A December memo from the borough community and fiscal projects manager, Brenda Ahlberg, told the assembly that the current school has deteriorated to the point that it is no longer viable as an educational facility.
The proposed new K-12 school will be 15,226 square feet, the memo said. Some residents have expressed concern about the $16 million cost for the school, given its remoteness and small student population. However, a state statute based on the number of students dictates the size of the school, and the borough does not have the flexibility to downsize the building. Shipping in materials is also expected to increase the cost.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Jason Ross of Nikiski provided public comment expressing frustration over school’s price tag.
“We could probably build a road that would go back and forth and make things a lot easier for education and give them more opportunity,” Ross said. “With a brand new building — getting supplies in and out to build the thing — it sounds like it’s going to be kind of an arduous deal there. It might be easier to just build a road and create access for a bunch of people who don’t have it. I realize they move out there and they want to be off the system… How much money do we spend on a group of kids who choose to live a lifestyle like that?”
One of the largest drivers of cost comes from the remote nature of the village. The village sits at the bottom of a steep bluff only accessible by a dirt switchback trail, too narrow and steep for most vehicles to traverse. The borough initially considered upgrading the road to borough standards but found it would be too expensive.