A request needed to help fund the nearly $17-million-estimated construction of a K-12 facility for Kachemak Selo School’s 63 unhoused students is before Alaska’s Department of Early Education and Development for a second year.
The preliminary scores for the FY17 Grant Application Scoring Process for DEED’s School Construction list will be released on Nov. 5, which will indicate the likelihood of the proposed 18,599-square-foot building being constructed in the near future. DEED approved the state contribution at nearly $10.9 million, and the Kenai Peninsula Borough would fund the remaining nearly $5.9 million.
“It won’t go forward without state funding,” said borough Capital Projects Department Director Kevin Lyon. “Even getting the local share can be complicated.”
During the FY16 scoring process, the K-Selo replacement school was ranked the number one priority, but was knocked out of place by an unscored project.
The Kivalina K-12 replacement school in the Northwest Arctic Borough School District automatically went to the top last year. The project was state required through the 2011 Kasayulie v. State Consent Decree and Settlement Agreement litigation. The Kivalina replacement school cost the state $63-million, including a $12.6 million local share, and was the final of five projects on the school construction grant list that were identified in the consent decree as required for completion by 2016.
It is uncommon for the state to fund only one priority from the school construction list, which was the case last year, Lyon said.
Kachemak Selo is considered by the state to have a fairly reasonable cost, and with a high number of unhoused students, makes it a more urgent project, Lyon said. Funding availability depends on the amount and size of the projects and some years the state will fund more from the Major Maintenance Projects list, which is the second of DEED’s two capital project grant programs, he said.
Board of Education member Sunni Hilts represents the South Peninsula including the unincorporated area of Kachemak Selo, where the school of the same name operates.
“(A new school) is something the board has worked on for several years and we hope to see it happen, but it is complicated,” Hilts said. “…there are no adequate buildings in K-Selo that we can rent.”
The sooner the grant money is awarded, the sooner the construction process can begin, which will likely take years, Hilts said. She said the growing student population makes the need even greater.
The most recent building condition survey report completed by borough Architect and Project Manager David May on Aug. 26, 2014, details the safety and building issues with the three Kenai Peninsula Borough School District-leased buildings, totaling approximately 5,400 square feet, in which K-Selo students are taught.
“They (the students) are not housed in an (borough) owned facility,” Lyon said. “They (the buildings) are maintained by folks down there, which is not necessarily up to our standards. They are wood construction on poor foundations, nothing more than you would have for residential construction.”
Building 1 was constructed in 1982, and was intended as a classroom facility. Building 2 was constructed in 1996 to address the school’s growing population and was also intended to be a classroom facility. Building 3 was originally constructed in 1991 as a residence and was converted to a classroom facility in 2005.
The conditions report shows weather damage to the buildings, which are sinking directly or at a slope into the ground, raising concerns about the “load carrying capacity of supporting soils.” Light bulbs installed throughout the facilities are uncovered leading to potential physical harm to students, and limited storage space often means potential exposure to toxins from cleaning chemicals. The buildings need improvements to fire protection, and cracks formed in the walls, among other issues.
In a letter to Mike Hanely, the Commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development, dated Aug. 27, 2014, former Republican Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell said the K-Selo facilities are in worse shape than “several of the Bush schools we agreed to replace in a court settlement.”
Treadwell wrote he was concerned about size limitations, structural and safety hazards and energy efficiency in the letter. He also mentioned concerns about the location of the school.
K-Selo is considered geographically isolated, since it does not have year-round, publicly maintained road access to other school districts, according to Alaska statue. The school is located roughly 30 miles outside Homer down a steep switchback off the borough-maintained road system.
It is a unique school, Hilts said. The education provided at the school is only to members of the village so that the communities’ culture is maintained, she said. There is no safe way to get the students to another location outside of K-Selo on a daily basis, Hilts said. The Army Corps of Engineers has looked into paving a reliable road, but clay and shale make up much of the switchback, and are not sound to build on, she said.
Materials for the project will have to be barged in, and drop off timing will depend on the tide, Lyon said. When the water is out there is about 0.25 miles of exposed mudflat, which is almost impossible to cross, he said.
The state virtually considers K-Selo an island due to the limited access, Lyon said.
Once DEED’s preliminary scores are released, the applicants have one month to send additional information and further argue their case in hopes of moving up on the list, which rarely happens, Lyon said. He said the project is necessary.
“If I had my kids in this school — it’s pretty important,” Lyon said. “They only get to go through their education one time. If your kids were down there, I would think you would think it’s pretty important.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org