School surplus: Who profits from the leftover buildings?

Posted: Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Two years ago, when the decision was made to close Nikiski Elementary School, a hue and cry arose across the Kenai Peninsula in opposition.

This year, when the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District decided to surplus the former Seward Middle School, the decision was applauded.

How are the determinations made, how long is a schoolhouse in a surplus state and who profits from the real estate transfer?

In the case of the Nikiski school, the district declared the 40-year-old facility to be a surplus when enrollment in the North Kenai Peninsula community dropped to a level less than half the capacity of two elementary schools — Nikiski Elementary and North Star Elementary — which were within five miles of each other.

“This was a new process for the district,” said Dave Spence, director of planning and operations for the school district.

The school was placed in a surplus status, meaning if something unforeseen occurred causing enrollment to shift upward, the school could be reopened.

“After 24 months, there is nothing we foresee that would change,” Spence said.

At its last school board meeting, the district recommended the school building be returned to the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

“The facilities are owned by the borough and loaned to the school district to use as schools,” said Sally Tachick, board administrative secretary.

Once the buildings are no longer needed, they are returned to the borough, with no exchange of funds.

“There is no remuneration back to the district,” Spence said. “The district does not receive any money for the building.

There is a savings in cost to staff the building, to maintain it and to pay for utilities, he said.

In the case of the Seward Middle School, the building was so old and in such a state of disrepair, it was decided it would make better economic sense to demolish it and rebuild than to remodel.

The Seward school was built in 1970, according to Spence, and built “to the code of the times.”

“Today it would cost more to bring it up to (new building) code than to build new,” he said.

Now the school is being torn down, and earlier this year, students moved into a brand new middle school.

When asked what happens to land on which a school once stood, Spence said local zoning would be flexible enough that it could be used for other purposes.

Once the school district decides to return the school property to the borough, the district does not make any recommendation as to how the school building should be used.

“If we deem it is not needed as a school, it’s up to the borough to decide how the building is to be used,” Spence said.

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