This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
The borough is still trying to find the money to build a new school in Kachemak-Selo, although voters shouldn’t expect to see another bond package on the ballots.
At the May 21 Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting, Mayor Charlie Pierce said he met with staff concerning the recent extension to the $10 million state grant, which would help build a new school. The state grant requires a 35% match, or around $5 million from the borough. Pierce said he doesn’t plan to put up another bond package on the ballots to cover the match.
“There was a request made that I put it out for bonding again,” Pierce said. “I don’t think we’re there. I don’t think we’re anywhere near prepared for putting this project on the street for a bond. I think it’s failed.”
K-Selo has been in need of a new school for nearly 10 years. In 2011, the Old Believer 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.
Pierce said he hopes to get local lawmakers to weigh in on how the borough should proceed.
“Hopefully we’ll get some of the legislative representatives together and talk about the direction we can go with this project,” Pierce said at the meeting. “What we need to do is sit down with our elected officials from the state and get some direction from them about what variables they have. Perhaps they have some suggestions.”
At the May 21 meeting, assembly member Kelly Cooper addressed concerns about the new school’s potential price tag and size.
The current school in Kachemak-Selo is made up of three borough-leased buildings and serves about 46 students. In a December memo to the assembly, the borough noted the current school has deteriorated to the point that it is no longer viable as an educational facility.
The proposed new K-12 school would be 15,226 square feet, the memo said. Some residents have expressed concerns 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 if they’re using bond money.
”We do have a statutory requirement to provide facilities for people who want to get an education in Alaska, whether they’re remote or on the road system,” assembly member Kelly Cooper said at the assembly meeting. “I don’t think anyone in the southern peninsula wants us to build a facility that’s much more than what they need. I think the residents in that community and the voters want us to be responsible with that money and provide a good safe place to get the education they need.”
One of the largest drivers of 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.
Pierce suggested the borough commission concept drawings for a potential school to get a better idea of the cost.
“We should consider spending dollars up front to do some actual conceptual drawings and design work at an architect or with some engineers that really look at it, look at the site and put some better numbers to it,” Pierce said.
Pierce said he would continue to meet with borough staff and assembly members to address the community school.