New law may net funds for repairs

Schools could receive facelift

Posted: Sunday, June 04, 2000

This fall, Kenai Peninsula Borough voters may find a school bond on the ballot for the first time in six years. And a bill pending in Juneau may more than quadruple the amount of money to upgrade peninsula schools if they vote "yes."

If voters, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and the state Department of Education and Early Development approve the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's project list, the state could pump $5.2 million into the borough for major maintenance and renovation projects.

The first step is an agenda item for Monday's school board meeting asking for approval of the capital bond issue project list.

"We win on both sides here. This is the collaborative best of both worlds for us," said Patrick Hickey, the district's assistant superintendent for finances and facilities.

House Bill 281 is awaiting the governor's signature and will become law automatically June 17 unless it is vetoed. Sources familiar with the issue predict that the bill will become law without further action, Hickey said.

The bill, which permits the issuance of bonds and other funds for several education projects, includes provision for a 70 percent to 30 percent match of state to local funding for major maintenance and capital improvements. The Kenai Peninsula Borough could receive $5,200,300. The funding would depend on borough voters approving a bond measure for $2,228,700. In other words, for every $1 from the borough taxpayers, the state would chip in $2.33.

The law also mandates that the state education department approve projects.

"I don't think there is a problem," Hickey said. "But it needs to be mentioned."

The new funding, totaling $7,429,000, would come on top of about $2 million the borough has been spending annually on major maintenance.

Taking care of school upkeep is a huge and expensive task, Hickey explained.

The district operates 39 schools in 27 communities and has 112 projects, totaling $26 million, on its "to do" list.

"Imagine how much surface area the roofs are. Imagine how much carpeting and how much paint," he said. "Then you add to it years of wear and tear."

The school board and administration will meet Monday at 11:30 a.m. in a public work session to review the project list.

Hickey's top recommendations, in order, are:

n New roofing for the gymnasium at the Seward Middle School, costing about $500,000;

n A waste-water treatment system for McNeil Canyon Elementary School near Homer;

n Repair structural deficiencies to support columns at Homer High School;

n Insulation for Kenai Central High School;

n Other projects include roofing repairs, access accommodations for the handicapped and safety improvements to playgrounds, gymnasiums and tracks.

The district has had trouble in the past getting state money for repair projects because the borough has kept its buildings in good condition. Bush communities with major facilities problems tend to get the most state capital improvement funding, and recent court decisions may make it even more difficult for the Kenai Peninsula to compete for those dollars in future years, Hickey said.

The current funding HB 281 offers also may be the last chance for the district to float a bond issue, he said.

If voters statewide approve the fall ballot proposition to cap property taxes, using bond funds to pay for projects may become extremely difficult in future years. The Kenai Peninsula district wants to move quickly to lock in the funding in case the window of opportunity closes, he said.

"Our goal would be to issue the bonds before the first of January, 2001," he said.

The list will come before the school board for a vote Monday. The borough assembly also will vote on it.

If the education department signs off on the list, which Hickey said he expects, the bond issue will go before voters on the borough ballot in October.

It will be the first school bond issue on the ballot since 1994, when voters approved construction of West Homer Elementary School.

The borough is due to pay off existing bonded indebtedness in fiscal year 2001, said Borough Finance Director Jeff Sinz.

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