Voters may be faced with a decision to approve a $26 million bond for school roof repairs this October.
Twenty schools and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District buildings have roofs that are reaching the end of their effective life, requiring replacement and maintenance projects in the coming years.
District officials and borough law makers have indicated the most effective way to pay for all the work would be a general obligation bond requiring voter approval, but they've acknowledged the political and economic climate could make that difficult.
Dave Spence, the district's director of planning and operations, said the project is a big undertaking, and comes about as a result of a construction spurt in the 1980's when many of the schools with roofs in need of repair were built.
As a result, the roofs scheduled replacements will stack up on each other.
"It's not like they've been ignored or that we've deferred maintenance," Spence said. "They're all coming due at about same time."
The district plans to assess the roofs of the 20 buildings this spring and compile a schedule of what buildings are in the most need.
Because of the scope of the project, Spence said it will take several years to complete, and will be carried out in phases.
"There's a finite workforce in our area," Spence said. "We have to schedule our jobs according to who we have available."
The short construction season also limits the amount of work that can be done.
There is a second impetus for getting a bond approved this fall, however.
A state program that would reimburse the borough for 70 percent of the yearly bond payments is on track to sunset in November, pending any renewed legislation from Juneau.
"I can't second-guess the legislature if they'll offer a second bill," Spence said.
Spence called the 70-30 split, "A great deal," for the borough however.
Borough Mayor Dave Carey has thrown his support behind the project and bringing the bond before the voters as well.
The borough owns the schools and its their responsibility to maintain them.
He pointed to the state's reimbursement program, access to stimulus dollars to help pay interest and comments provided by the borough's Finance Director, Craig Chapman, at a joint Borough Assembly-Board of Education meeting held last week, as reasoning for his support.
At that meeting, Chapman indicated that the borough would be shedding some of its bond debt in the coming year and if a $26 million bond for roof repairs were approved, it likely would not result in a significant increase to the borough's debt.
Carey said he also supported the project because of his familiarity with the state of many of the school's roofs.
He said 30 years ago as a coach for the wrestling team at the newly opened Soldotna High School, he and his athletes had to share their mats with trashcans to catch water dripping through leaks in the roof during thaws.
The problem has persisted there since, despite repairs over the years, and similar problems exist at a number of other schools.
Both Carey and Spence said that historically the borough has a strong track record when it comes to maintaining the schools.
"I don't expect that to change," Spence said. "All you have to do is walk around to majority of the buildings and you will see they get excellent care. It's a joint partnership, and everyone is very diligent and takes the responsibility very seriously."
Carey said however he expects getting the bond approved could be tough.
"I think initially tax payers will be very doubtful," he said. "It will be our responsibility, mine and the school district's, to get the word out to explain it fully."
Dante Petri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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