This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
Efforts to build a new school in Kachemak-Selo are still going strong, and a two-year extension on a state grant gives the borough more time to find additional funds for their match.
Last year, the Legislature enacted a bill allowing Department of Education and Early Development construction grant recipients to request an extension of up to seven years.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly passed an ordinance at their Jan. 23 meeting asking for an extension on the $10 million state grant for a new school.
Brenda Ahlberg, community and fiscal projects manager, said the borough requested a seven-year extension, but received only a two-year extension, making the deadline for the grant June 29, 2021. This means the borough has two more years to find around $5 million to fulfill the 35% match required of the grant.
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 originally expired June 30.
The borough is seeking alternative ways to fund the project, Ahlberg said.
“Given the state of the economic challenges we’re trying to overcome, now is the time that we need to seek alternative solutions for this project,” Ahlberg said. “The district is looking to consolidate schools due to the future fiscal uncertainties. While these challenges cannot take away from the students’ needs in K-Selo, the borough administration would like to identify a better approach that resolves the building issues.”
It’s uncertain if voters will see another K-Selo bond package on the ballots again.
“Last year the voters clearly stated that they did not approve of the 35% match or the $15 million-plus construction cost and Prop 1 failed,” Ahlberg said.
The current school in Kachemak-Selo is made up of three borough-leased buildings and serves about 46 students. In a December memo, 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 costs 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.
One of the largest drivers of the cost comes from the remote nature of the village. The community 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.
Ahlberg said the borough, school district and community will resume talks about next steps in the coming months.