Editor’s note: This article is the third in a five-part series spotlighting conditions in Kenai Peninsula Borough School District schools. A bond package on the Oct. 4 municipal election ballot would fund 10 projects affecting 13 borough schools to address some of the district’s infrastructure issues.
There’s an annotated floor plan hanging up in Vaughn Dosko’s office. He’s the principal of Kenai Middle School and the document shows a restructured school floor plan: hallways that corral visitors directly to the school office and windows overlooking the school’s front entrance.
The plan reflects long-awaited security upgrades that could finally be addressed under a bond package up for consideration Tuesday. Through that bond, Kenai Middle School’s front entrance and office areas would be reorganized, the school kitchen space would expand and student pickup and drop-off spaces would be made more efficient.
The cluster of Kenai Middle School projects is one of 10 elements outlined in a $65.5 million school improvement bond package that Kenai Peninsula voters will consider during the Oct. 4 municipal election. The Kenai Middle School project would cost about $2.5 million combined, reflecting about 3.8% of the bond’s $65.5 million price tag.
KPBSD 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. The project list would affect 13 of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s 42 schools.
Dosko, who has worked at Kenai Middle for 17 years, said some of the projects on Kenai Middle’s to-do list predate his time at the school. Concerns about the security, or lack thereof, of the school’s front entrance and office areas, for example, is an issue Dosko said last week his predecessor was concerned about.
To get to Kenai Middle School’s administrative offices, visitors must walk in through the front doors, where the school lunchroom is located, then immediately turn right and walk down the hall past student lockers. Dosko said this means it’s possible for someone to enter the school building without people in the office immediately knowing.
“It’s not common to walk into a school and not see the office,” Dosko said, adding that security needs have changed since the school was built in the early 1970s. “ … Obviously, when the school was built in 1970, that was not an issue. You would never build a school today with that (layout).”
The reconfiguration as discussed in the bond package would allow people in the school office to have eyes on who is coming in and out of the building, which Dosko said is key.
“With today’s day and age of school violence, it’s very important to have that line of sight with people,” Dosko said. “You know, whether it’s certain parents or certain people that shouldn’t be picking up their kids that enter into the school and have access to kids that they should not have or, like I said, somebody that’s violent or wants to induce harm on the school.”
To combat the configuration, Dosko said the school has signage directing people to the location of the office and that Kenai Middle School staff know to ask questions if they see someone who shouldn’t be in the building. The school also has security cameras that are monitored by school secretaries, but Dosko said even that is not a perfect fix.
“The problem, right, is they may have been busy,” Dosko said of secretaries. “Cameras are nice, but it doesn’t fix the problem.”
If the bond package does not pass, Dosko said Kenai Middle’s site council, which can include students and parents as well as school staff, plans to ask the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to fund the security improvement outright.
“At some point, safety has to be number one,” Dosko said. “This has been a known problem for the 17 years I’ve been here and I know that Mr. (Paul) Sorenson, the previous principal, worked a long time at getting this project to the forefront.”
Also at stake for Kenai Middle through the bond package is efficiency of how meals are distributed to students. Kenai Middle School currently requires three lunch periods to adequately serve its roughly 415 sixth through eighth grade students — more and more of whom, Dosko said, are qualifying for free and reduced meals.
Dosko estimates that about 60% of students get meals through the school cafeteria, as opposed to bringing lunch from home, on a daily basis. Under the bond the footprint of the kitchen would be made bigger by taking out a wall that separates kitchen and storage space so that the school could serve more meals quicker.
The lunchroom space can only seat about 160 students and Dosko said bottlenecks at the lunch window mean many students spend a significant chunk of their 30-minute lunch period waiting in line. Students sometimes go without lunch, Dosko said, to avoid waiting in line.
“Lunch period is supposed to be about 15 minutes to where they’re eating lunch and then (have) the last 15 minutes for recess,” Dosko said. “For us to get all kids through the lunch line, it’s well into that 25 minute time.”
The COVID-19 pandemic drove home the need for better kitchen functionality, Dosko said, because school meals were made free by the federal government, and more students were getting lunch from school.
In addition to the restructuring of Kenai Middle School’s front office and the expansion of the school’s kitchen, the bond package up for consideration next week would also reconfigure the school’s student pickup and drop-off spaces. In all, the package describes improvements to school traffic patterns at four schools throughout the borough.
Dosko said addressing some of the maintenance problems described by the bond package will free up district funds to use for other things. Like other principals, Dosko said he thinks of the school building as a community building, as it is also made available to community groups such as the boys and girls clubs.
“I think when you look at this, you’re not just thinking one year or two years,” Dosko said. “ … My grandkids could be going to this school, you know? It’s an investment in kids. If we don’t put some money into our schools, they’re going to be (inefficient) and not appropriate for kids.”
More information about the school improvement bond up for consideration next month can be found on the Kenai Peninsula Borough website at kpb.us/mayor/prop2.