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School building budget grows

Education construction spending gets 2012 boost

Posted: February 12, 2012 - 9:16pm

Construction spending for the schools gets another boost this year, and there are several projects to account for it.

The Associated General Contractors of Alaska and Institute of Social and Economic Research forecast that education-related construction spending will get a 15 percent boost over last year to the tune of $408 million.

AGC’s forecast states the increase comes from a $397 million state bond package passed in 2010 in addition to more local school district spending.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District wins a large prize at the local level with a five-year $214 million bond package and no shortage of projects to put it toward.

Six new construction projects will go forward for the district. Most notably, there will be new school building construction with additional work on athletic field improvements, heating and ventilation work, generator replacements, bathrooms, signage and various other infrastructure needs.

The Mat-Su district’s biggest project will be building its first middle and high school combination at the Knik-Goose Bay Road area.

“That will help alleviate the crowding at Wasilla Middle and High School,” said district spokeswoman Catherine Esary.

A new Valley Pathways building will be built using a modified design previously used at Su Valley Jr/Sr High School, which was lost to fire in 2007. Valley Pathways is an alternative high school serving about 250 students and is located on borough-owned land that was just re-zoned into the Wasilla area.

Also on the list is a new Iditarod Elementary and a permanent building for the Mat-Su Day School, which currently uses portable classrooms on borough property but co-located with the District Operations & Maintenance Department.

Mat-Su Career and Technical High School will be getting a phase III addition as well.

The investments are subject to up to 70 percent of debt service reimbursement by the state.

“The bond passed substantially and so we believe that that’s an indication that Mat-Su Borough voters are in support of education. They see the return on their investment. They see that our schools are doing a good job and they want to provide the best facilities,” Esary said.

The Anchorage School District will place a $59 million bond proposition on the municipality’s April ballot with an anticipated 60 percent to 70 percent debt reimbursement for most projects. If passed, work will begin this year.

Such work includes $23.9 million for life extension projects for schools based  on the district’s new facility condition index. Projects could include fire alarm upgrades, roof replacements, mechanical system work, lighting upgrades and other site improvements.

The bond includes $23.8 million for career and technical education improvements with slightly more than half going toward a new structure for West High School. The rest will be to upgrade the programs at this school and allowing other middle and high schools to develop or enhance their own programs.

Also, the bond includes $2.4 million to improve Girdwood K-8’s infrastructure, space and condition to meet educational needs, which it currently doesn’t and is overcrowded.

Finally, the district must match $9.1 million to receive a $21 million state grant to renovate Service High School. The scope if this project has been reduced following two previously failed bond proposals.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District also has quite a bit of projects this year that come from previous bonds and legislative action. Projects throughout eight schools will cover about $17.3 million, according to Assistant Superintendent Dave Ferree, who said this amount is up a little bit from the past couple of years.

Ferree said the biggest one is phase III renovation at Barnette Magnet School that will cost $9.5 million, followed by a $3.1 million gym renovation at Lathrop High.

Other projects covering septic and sewer systems, lighting, siding replacement, power and mechanical upgrades will each cost around $1 million or lower, some of them half or less.

In the Juneau School District, work on Gastineau Elementary’s commons and gym renovations will finish up this summer, followed by its playground. Auke Bay Elementary renovations will immediately follow, allowing simultaneous construction.

Building won’t be limited to K-12. The University of Alaska Anchorage will be doing hefty additions. The Seawolves will be getting a new 196,000-square-foot sports arena. It’s estimated to cost $82 million and to be completed in 2014. The school of engineering will get a new 72,000-square-foot building for $55 million while the old one is renovated for $11.5 million. A 500-car parking structure is included in the project for an additional $17 million. The whole thing could be completed by 2015.

Lastly for UAA, a new Mat-Su Valley performing arts center should start this year and be completed in 2014 for $15 million. The 35,000-square-foot structure will house a 500-seat theater and classrooms.

AGC reports that education spending’s biggest leap was between 2005 and 2006, which had a 107 percent increase due to expansive state grants and local bonds that virtually guaranteed reimbursement by the state for certain percentage of the repayments.

The pattern leveled out more until 2008, which saw a 20 percent drop due to lower state spending on the K-12 level and less university spending. The forecast has gradually gone up since.

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