District looks for space: School board, administration eye solution for crowding at borough building

Posted: Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Feet from the entrance to the school district's Information Services Department is a desk, sheltered from gusts of cold outside air bursting in every time the doors open by nothing more than a stack of empty cardboard boxes.

The employee who usually works at that desk was out sick on Tuesday, according to IT Director Jim White.

Like many other borough entities housed in the Borough Administration Building, White and his staff have been making due with a finite amount of space for years.

The issue is hardly a new one at 144 North Binkley St., and has been recognized for at least 20 years.

Now it appears change may be in the wind.

On Monday the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education held a work session prior to their evening meeting on relocating the school district's office from its current site to 245 North Binkley.

The site is being referred to as the Mundell Building in reference to its current owners, Alice and Earl Mundell.

The 1.18 acre property has an assessed value of $1.77 million.

District Superintendent Steve Atwater told the board on Monday that since he took his position in July he's run into issues finding space for holding meetings, providing desk room for new staff and confidentiality issues where phone conversations involving legal and personnel issues "are being conducted in a semi-public setting."

The district's IT department might be one of the hardest pressed when it comes to space concerns for district staff.

White said he has nine employees currently housed in a ground floor office with another four out in the field. He hasn't hired any additional staff since 2002.

He said he expects to add an employee in the next year however, and isn't exactly sure where that person is going to fit.

As the IT department has grown over the years, White said they've adopted their hallways and even a storage room as workspaces.

The latter is used as a shop for repairing equipment but has no ventilation. A wall fan circulates air laced with the smell of plastics and electronic components.

The IT department doesn't just have to find space for its employees though.

"Part of the problem is the clutter," White said.

On almost every desk are piles of computer components.

White said his department has minimal room to store equipment on site, and borrows heated space in the borough warehouse as well as unheated units.

Trips to these locations are a "frequent" occurrence for his staff.

The problem is hardly isolated to the school district though.

Borough Mayor Dave Carey said on Tuesday that space issues in the building have been a concern for him since he was first elected into office.

"There's crowding more than what there really should be," he said.

He acknowledged that in the district's IT department things are especially tight.

"Downstairs they are almost on top of each other," he said.

Carey said there's more than just issues with space; safety and security are concerns as well.

"We have had two incidents since I've been there of the police being called to my office because of weapons," Carey said. "In both cases the police said the security is not adequate for what they believe it should be."

He noted that concerns have been raised about the accessibility of the building to anyone with no checks or oversight.

"Just by the nature of the building you can get to anywhere," he said.

He also pointed out that a number of inefficiencies exist. One he highlighted was that during election time the Borough Clerk staff is often split between their second floor office and the ground floor where absentee voting occurs.

Another issue he brought up was the fact that the plumbing is isolated to the center of the building.

"Any building that's 38 to 39 years old, there are areas that could use improvement," he said.

Carey said that upgrading or renovating the borough building is likely to be too costly, but he's also concerned about purchasing the Mundell Building.

"Right now if I was going to make judgment from my standpoint only, without some real clear inefficiencies, I don't see that there's a real savings to the people of the peninsula," he said.

According to documentation provided at the board meeting, the Mundell Building will need about $220,000 in upgrades to bring it up to code. That doesn't necessarily take into account other costs such as interior renovations or improvements.

He noted that it would be taken off the tax roll and incur operating costs on the borough.

Carey said he would like to see a joint work session between the borough assembly and the school district on the matter.

"It really is a decision that those legislative bodies would have to decide," he said.

He did state adamantly that he will not take up a bond issue if the bodies are interested in moving ahead with the purchase and believe it may require one.

"I will not take this to a bond issue because I don't think the voters will approve," he said.

On Monday school board members pelted Dave Spence, Planning and Operations director for the district, with questions about the conditions of the building.

Tim Navarre of Kenai, who chaired the 1998 and 2000 borough Space Allocation Committees spoke positively of buying property.

"It's a good deal," he said. "You don't get 20,000 square foot in the million and a half (dollar) range."

He said that buying the property could prove to be a good long-term investment for the borough given its close proximity to Central Peninsula Hospital.

The relocation issue will next come up in a joint work session between the school board and the borough assembly at a date to be determined.

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com.

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