ANCHORAGE -- Voters on Tuesday approved two large bond packages to improve public schools and roads throughout Alaska, and a third measure to provide veterans with residential mortgage money.
The bond package was the first for Alaska in more than 20 years.
With 71 percent of precincts reporting, 59 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of the education bond package and 41 percent were opposed.
Sixty-eight percent of voters approved the transportation bond package, with 32 percent opposed.
And 70 percent of voters said yes to $500 million in state guaranteed mortgage bonds for qualified veterans. Thirty percent of voters were opposed.
The education bond package will allow the state to issue $236.8 million in bonds for public schools. The measure also will allow a separate school debt reimbursement program for projects approved from 1999 through 2005.
The package includes $166.1 million for major projects at Akiak, Akiachak, Scammon Bay, Teller, Hooper Bay, Circle and Naukati, plus improvements at 44 other sites.
''We have a lot of overcrowding in the schools of rural Alaska. By providing more space it will provide more opportunities for the children to learn,'' said Willie Kasayulie of Akiachak, a plaintiff in a successful lawsuit launched after the Legislature refused to provide money to upgrade rural schools.
The judge in the case found that the Legislature was passing over Department of Education projects in rural schools in favor of urban schools. But the judge did not order any remedial action.
''Our anticipation was that the courts would be able to direct the Legislature to come up with funding early,'' Kasayulie said. ''But I think through this process here it sends a loud message to the state and the legislators that people understand the needs of the children.''
Some of the money will go to the University of Alaska for, among other things, a bioscience class laboratory at Fairbanks, a fisheries laboratory in Juneau, and a science facility in Anchorage.
The bond also includes $4.7 million for a biomedical facility addition in Anchorage, $3.9 million for classroom renovations at Ketchikan and $1.5 million for a building in Valdez. Other money will pay for renovations at UA facilities around the state.
On the Kenai Peninsula, the school bond proposition means a new 10,000-square-foot addition and renovation to the Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College in Homer, as well as renovations to the Ward building at the Soldotna campus.
KPC Director Gary Turner wrote in a recent Clarion guest column that the renovations will give the campuses more of a "college" feel and provide much needed classroom space. Turner could not be reached for comment late Tuesday night.
The bonding proposition also will benefit the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, though the district was not specifically listed on the ballot.
"We didn't make the (list of) 52 specific projects because we do a darn good job of taking care of our buildings locally. We have a relationship with the borough that makes that work," said Donna Peterson, district superintendent.
"For us, the debt reimbursement portion is the part of value. It's been years since we had the opportunity to go to the state for funding of critical needs building and maintenance."
Specifically, the proposition will allow the district to petition the state for debt reimbursement for the construction of a new middle school in Seward. Peninsula voters already approved bonds for the school, contingent on reimbursement from the state.
"This is a positive thing, certainly, for the school district," Peterson said. "Now we'll kick in the paperwork to the state for 70-30 reimbursement."
Peterson said she believes the district will be able to make a strong case for reimbursement based on the significant structural problems at the existing Seward Middle School that require a replacement facility.
"We have a lot of practice with this," she said.
The transportation bond package authorizes the state to issue bonds for $226.7 million in transportation projects. Like the school proposition, it will pay for projects all over the state.
The ballot proposition includes $123.9 million in traditional general obligation bonds to be paid back from the state general fund and $102.8 million in GARVEE bonds. The GARVEE bonds are to be paid back with money the state expects from federal grants for highway construction.
GARVEE bonds will pay for eight projects ranging from a $1.5 million street improvement in Bethel to a $36.1 million extension of C Street in Anchorage.
The traditional bonds will pay for 21 projects, including a $37.5 million extension of Abbott Loop, $13.2 million for Old Glenn Highway rehabilitation in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and $8 million for Fairbanks downtown street improvements.
The measure also contains money for road projects in Donlin Creek, the Kenai Peninsula, Ketchikan, Kotzebue, Nome, Sitka and Wasilla plus harbor projects for Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Peters-burg, Wrangell, Yakutat and Klawock.
The last time Alaska voters approved a bond package was in 1980, and that time the money went for fishery facilities, roads, prisons and other projects.
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