If the state can find the money, the staff and 63 unhoused students at the K-12 Kachemak Selo School will get a new building.
The nearly $17 million project has been placed indefinitely as the top priority for Alaska’s Department of Early Education and Development FY17 school construction grant money list released Wednesday, and Gov. Bill Walker placed the project on his proposed FY17 capital budget.
It is the news the Russian Old Believer community, located roughly 30 miles outside Homer, was hopeful for — and will be, regardless of the possibility the state may fund none of the projects on the list.
“We tried last year and failed, we are hoping to get better results this year,” said Kachemak Selo Mayor David Klugen in a Nov. 16 interview at the school. “It’s possible they would (fund nothing), but we are all hopeful and trying our best to work it out.”
Elizabeth Nudelman, DEED’s director of School Finance, said there is no way another project will outrank the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s request for assistance funding the new 18,599-square-foot educational facility.
Kachemak Selo was placed in the number one spot on the FY16 priority list, but was bumped by the Kivalina K-12 replacement school in the Northwest Arctic Borough School District. Kivalina was one of five projects the state was required to complete through the 2011 Kasayulie v. State Consent Decree and Settlement Agreement litigation. Last year, Kivalina was the only funded construction priority.
DEED has approved a nearly $10.9 million share from the state and nearly $5.9 million from the borough for the new school.
“The legislature will make decisions on the capital budget during (the 2016 legislative) session,” Nudelman said.
If funded, the facility would unify instruction of K-12 grades under one roof.
Currently, the village’s students attend class in three separate, leased buildings, totaling 5,400 square feet. Each have significant safety hazards most recently detailed in a condition survey report completed by borough Architect and Project Manager David May on Aug. 26, 2014. There is minimal storage, so students can be exposed to hazardous cleaning materials, buildings are sinking or their foundations slanting and light fixtures have no coverings, among many other problems.
Building 1 was constructed as a classroom facility in 1982. Building 2 was constructed also intended to be a classroom facility in 1996, to address the school’s growing population. Building 3 was originally constructed as a residence in 1991 and was converted to a classroom facility in 2005.
Tenth grader Luve Kuzmin said she recalls one of her cousins living in what is now her school when she was younger. She is one of many students hoping for a new school.
“They need to fix the roof before it falls on us,” Kuzmin said.
She also said it would be nice to have lockers and bigger bathrooms. Students and staff share the same bathrooms at the schools.
Kuzmin said there is not enough space or resources at the school to do many of the projects students can complete in other schools. Her classmate, tenth grader Susanna Martusher, noted the high school doesn’t even have a science lab.
Martusher said she would be more excited to go to school. There would be places for more acitivities and it would be safer.
“If we would have an earthquake, we would die,” she said half-jokingly.
Ninth grader Jonah Reutov said he would like more chances to play indoors during the winter. On Nov. 16, temperatures in the village hovered at nearly 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, Reutov’s classmate, ninth grader Aleksandr Litvin, said getting a new school is a waste of time. There are fewer children living in the village, and with fewer students attending school, there will be less funding for teachers and some might be let go, he said.
Timothy Whip, who started work as K-Selo’s principal this year but has worked as the principal of Razdolna School just up the hill for many years, said the student population is dependant on young parents moving in or out of the village.
There has been a decrease in families who have or will be having children in the past five years.
Tim Vlasak, director of K-12 Schools and federal programs with the school district, said there is a limited amount of land available in the village, so a family has to move out before another can move in.
Reutov said he believes renovation are all that is necessary.
Mayor Klugen, however, said there is not enough money to do the amount of work that would be needed to make the space safe and functional enough.
Klugen and a few other community members make up what is unofficially called the Kachemak Selo Community Council. The community chooses the mayor and he calls on the other members of the council to assist with three main duties — schools maintenance, road upkeep and hauling in water. Anyone who is able helps with the work too, he said.
The school district leases the school’s three buildings from the council. The only income the council has to use on maintenance comes from the school district’s payments, Klugen said.
There are two sites where the replacement school may be built, and the community prefers a site just up the hill from the village because it is only 0.4 miles away and owned by the village, Klugen said. The second is in a field nearly 1.2 miles from the village and has 18 different owners, all of whom are willing to sell. As long as a there is a new school, most everyone in the village is fine with it going up in either location, he said.
Only one child in the entire village is homeschooled, Klugen said. Almost all the parents he knows want their children to receive a high school diploma and be competitive for the workforce, he said.
Secondary level teacher Nicole McKenney has been working at the school for three years and is looking forward to many changes
“The biggest priority for me is basic security,” McKenney said. “There is no way to secure the facility when no one is here.”
One of the windows is broken, she explained. People in the building can regularly feel drafts through the walls, and heating remains inefficient, she said.
There are chronic problems with the water system, and it isn’t uncommon for it to not be functional all day.
There is also nowhere for the children to gather for assemblies or celebrations, McKenney said. Last year’s graduation was held in a community member’s barn, she said.
McKenney was listening to her students, Reutov, Kuzmin and Litvin, talk about why they would or wouldn’t want a new facility. She said their viewpoints “reflects pragmatism.”
“This is all they know,” McKenney said. “They know what can get by with.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org