Graphic by Ashlyn O’Hara

Graphic by Ashlyn O’Hara

Borough voters to get final say on school maintenance bond

Assembly members approved Tuesday putting the issue on the Oct. 4 ballot

Kenai Peninsula Borough voters will decide this fall whether to fund $65.5 million worth of deferred maintenance at school facilities, following a decision Tuesday by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to put the issue on the October ballot.

Efforts to fund maintenance and repairs at Kenai Peninsula Borough School District facilities have been years in the making. The district last fall identified $420 million worth of maintenance, including $166 million worth of “critical needs.” Many of the projects represent deferred maintenance, or projects that have been put off for an extended period of time.

KPBSD Director of Planning and Operation Kevin Lyon told the Clarion in May that the district and borough have worked closely together to tackle smaller district projects, such as school boilers used for temperature control and failing windows, at all of the district’s 42 schools. The borough in 2021 contracted out an assessment of its school facilities, with the goal of using the results to improve preventative maintenance practices.

It’s been seven years since borough voters last approved a bond package for school maintenance; subsequent bonds were soundly defeated. Bond packages proposed in 2020 and 2021 were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In all, the $65.5 million package that will be considered by voters this fall describes $65.55 million worth of projects, the most expensive of which is the $21.5 million reconstruction of Soldotna Elementary School. The bond also would fund $18.5 million to repurpose the Soldotna Prep School building.

As part of the Soldotna Prep School projects, KPBSD’s district office, River City Academy, Soldotna Montessori and Connections Homeschool would all be relocated to the prep building, which is currently sitting vacant and which costs the Kenai Peninsula Borough $300,000 annually to maintain, according to a description of the bond package prepared for school board members.

Also included in the proposed package is $500,000 for the construction of new concession and restroom facilities for Ed Hollier Field at Kenai Central High School. Improvements to the front entrance at Homer High School, safety and security renovation at Kenai Middle School and the installation of turf fields at Seward and Nikiski high schools are also described in the proposal.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Purchasing and Contracting Director John Hedges has been working with Lyon on school maintenance issues on the borough side. He and Kenai Peninsula Borough Finance Director Brandi Harbaugh estimated in a May 26 memo to assembly members that the cost to borough taxpayers would be about $45 for every $100,000 taxed if the state does not reimburse some of the costs. The cost to borough taxpayers would be about $25 per $100,000 taxed if the state does reimburse some costs.

Hedges reported in a Tuesday presentation to the assembly’s finance committee that the average age of the borough’s school facilities is 46 years and that 38% of schools are older than 50 years.

“While (the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s) funding of general maintenance for its school facilities has been adequate through the years, capital replacement and capital improvements have not been adequately funded nor kept pace with the asset’s predictable useful life,” Hedges presentation says.

Assembly members on Tuesday unanimously voted in support of putting the bond package on the ballot for the Oct. 4 election, citing rising costs and the continued deferring of work.

Assembly member Bill Elam said he generally does not favor the borough taking on debt, but that he’s toured schools and seen firsthand the kind of work that is needed.

“I’m not a big fan of bonds and debt and taking on more, you know, payments, just in general, but I’ve been out to a lot of these schools now and we really do need to get some of this stuff addressed,” Elam said.

Assembly member Jesse Bjorkman, who is also a teacher at Nikiski Middle/High School, said he would be voting in favor of putting the bond on the ballot and that, when it comes to deferred maintenance, the borough should be acting “as soon as possible.”

“Ultimately, as we have a lot of deferred maintenance across the borough, the longer we wait to conduct that major maintenance and other capital projects, the more expensive these things are going to cost in the future,” Bjorkman said.

Also approved by assembly members on Tuesday was the use of $25,000 to help explain the “needs and impacts” associated with the school bond proposition to voters.

“The materials and information that will be distributed will be factual, and address the needs and impacts associated with the School Bond proposition,” reads a May 26 memo to assembly members. “The material will be distributed through online platforms, print publications, and presentations throughout the borough.”

The assembly’s full Tuesday meeting can be viewed on the borough’s website at kpb.us.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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