Construction and maintenance projects usually focus on concrete and wood. But the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is placing water at the top of its wish list of improvements.
Monday the school board and administrators produced their list of major maintenance and capital improvements projects. The list now goes to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly for approval.
"Water has risen to the top," said Dave Spence, the district's director of operations. "As far as the district is concerned, it is the number one priority to have safe drinking water in our schools."
Assistant Superintendent Patrick Hickey wrote a memo to the board outlining the reasons.
"In light of recent water sample results and changing (Environ-mental Protection Agency) action levels for arsenic and other contaminants, it is my opinion we should identify this area as our primary focus," Hickey wrote.
"I do not underestimate the challenges nor the costs involved but believe an ability to drink the water in our schools is a reasonable expectation of our public. This is especially true considering these sites are designated as emergency shelters."
The district has seven schools on bottled water, and last month students at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School in Soldotna were tested for lead exposure.
The board unanimously approved a prioritized list of 103 projects.
The district compiles the list annually after Spence, the borough maintenance director and the borough risk manager tour every school building and meet with the principals to discuss their needs, Spence explained.
"This year's list looks significantly different from last year's because we were able to knock $7.429 million off it," he said. "Those lists are never static."
Borough voters approved the $7.429 million bond in October. The borough will use the money to complete roof repairs. The funding allowed the district to turn over the list and add new projects to it.
While water issues are high on the board's wish list, the top priority listed is fixing or replacing the deteriorating Seward Middle School. But that project is so complex and expensive that the community and officials have yet to decide how to proceed.
"Is the structure really worth a more than million-dollar fix on the roof with an aging wooden structure under it?" Spence asked. "The scope of that project has not been defined. Discussion on that will be continuing."
Next on the list, and most likely to be done soonest, are water-related projects. These include:
n $20,000 to complete a water treatment system being installed at Sterling Elementary School;
n $120,000 to overhaul the water system at Skyview High School to reduce copper leaching and remove water hammering, which over time weakens plumbing; and
n $10,000 to connect Chapman Elementary School in Anchor Point to the public water system.
Handicapped access projects also rank high on the list, including improvements at Seward, Nan-walek, Homer Middle School and Moose Pass. The buildings were compliant when built, but rules have changed.
"(The Americans with Disabili-ties Act) is always an issue," Spence said. "Unfortunately some of those things are very expensive when you are talking about structural changes to the building."
The bulk of the items on the list are due to the aging of the school buildings, he said.
They include requests for new intercoms, carpeting, lights and other basics.
Most of the peninsula schools, like others statewide, were built a generation ago when the state was flush with oil revenue and the population soared. Now those buildings are developing problems, despite being well cared for, he said.
"Behind just these top 100 items there are hundreds more. It is a continual struggle to make headway or sometimes just to tread water," Spence said. "Some of our facilities are 30, 40 years old. Some, the core was built in the 1950s."
The district will submit the top items on the list to the state Department of Education and Early Development for potential capital improvement grants. But the state has not funded any item on the peninsula district's list for more than a decade, Spence said.
In fact, at the same meeting Hickey notified the board that the application submitted to the state in September had been turned down.
The borough, which spends about $2 million per year on school maintenance projects, is a more likely source for completing the work.
"We do have tentative plans for some of the projects on that list," Spence said.
In other school board business:
n The school board honored three teachers for exemplary service. Those honored were:
Linda Overturf from Soldotna Middle School, chosen as Alaska's Family and Consumer Science Teacher of the Year;
Shona DeVolld from Kenai Central High School, selected as one of the borough's BP Teacher of Excellence recipients; and
Liz Burck, also from KCHS and a BP Teacher of Excellence.
n It was the last meeting for board member Mike Chenault, who is stepping down to take a seat in the state House of Representatives.
His colleagues wished him well in his new post, and he thanked Superintendent Donna Peterson and the board for their help.
"I will continue to be around as you know. My door will be open," Chenault said. "I will be looking to you for the educational expertise I will need."
The next school board meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 8 at the Borough Building in Soldotna, at which time the board plans to select a replacement for Chenault.
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