School must be fixed even if voters say 'no'

Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Kenai Peninsula Borough voters will be asked to vote on a school bond at the general election Oct. 1.

The general obligation bond would allow the borough to build a new middle school in Seward to replace the existing structure, which is falling apart.

Two years ago, the school board appropriated funds for a code compliance review of the 34-year-old building.

The review, completed by Kenai Peninsula Borough School District engineer Dave Spence, Gary Cain of Enterprise Engineering Inc. and Gerry Winchester of Winchester Alaska Inc., found about 100 code violations, ranging from failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act to fire safety issues to ongoing roof leakage. Other problems include the location of the art room and kiln, the underground air circulation system and the lack of earthquake tolerance.

According to the review, in order to fix the existing building through a remodel, the borough would have to invest about $10.7 million. The remodel would give the building an extended life of five to 10 years.

A new building, on the other hand, would cost an estimated $14.7 million and could be expected to last 30 to 50 years.

The choice, according to Seward Site Council President Cindy Ecklund, is pretty simple.

"We have to do something," she said. "Are we going to spend $10.7 million for five to 10 years or $14.7 million for 30 to 50 years?"

The Seward Site Council, Seward City Council and borough school board all agree a new building is the way to go.

"When you see the pictures of Seward Middle School, the leaking ceiling, buckets on the floors, rotting of wood, it becomes obvious," said school board member Margaret Gilman.

Now, voters are asked to weigh in with their opinion.

Proposition No. 3 asks voters to approve a $14.7 million general obligation bond to construct a new school. But the vote is not necessarily the end of the process.

The school is on the borough's list of priority capital improvements and may qualify for state debt service reimbursement eligibility.

A general obligation bond provision in Proposition C of the state general election Nov. 5 also could provide additional funds for the project. According to a school district fact sheet, if the project receives approval from the state Department of Education before 2005 and Proposition 3 passes, the project could be built with 70 percent reimbursement from the state and only 30 percent paid for by the borough.

If Proposition 3 passes, the borough will apply for reimbursement with the state. The language of the proposition ensures that bonds will be issued only if the state agrees to reimburse at least 60 percent of the project costs.

If the state does not approve 60 percent reimbursement or if the proposition fails, bonds will not be issued.

However, because the school does not meet code, the school district will still have to make extensive repairs or build a new facility -- the money simply will have to come from another borough budget source.

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