School board changes K-Selo school site selection

Spurred by a fear of landslides, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education has officially revised their site selection for a new school in the remote Old Believer community of Kachemak Selo.

The board’s approval reverses the location decision made in 2014. The decision was between two sites — yellow and blue. In May 2014, a site selection committee recommended the yellow site after taking into consideration the construction costs, maintenance costs, social use and land use. Since then, though, Kenai Peninsula Borough Land Management Officer Marcus Mueller became concerned with landslides in the Swift Creek Valley where the yellow site is located.

“I was looking at maps from the valley and stewing over some things that concern me and ended up looking into slope stability and some hazards were identified where there is evidence of unstable slopes in the area,” Mueller told the board at a work session on Monday. “We’re not sure how high that risk is, but that there is a risk present.”

This risk changed the numbers, and now the blue site is preferred. The blue site is about one mile east of the current elementary school on land that is owned by an individual in the community. The site comes with it’s own, financial, concerns since there are no utilities and no road to the site.

The action item passed six to three, but the financial concerns led Board Member Dan Castimore to vote down the ordinance.

“I was on the original site selection committee and, at the time, the site we’re looking at now was the preferred site by the community but the cost was millions of dollars higher” Castimore said. “… This site has much more room for growth, better geology, but, I’m worried that there are a lot of unknown costs, especially with things like transportation, getting materials to the site and all of those things.”

Board Members Debbie Cary and Marty Anderson also voted against the site selection.

Cary explained that she had a hard time supporting the motion without knowing a final number on the cost of the school.

At the work session, District Director of Planning and Operations David May said early costs associated with both of the sites were rough estimates.

“Without the actual property, and getting prices the the utility companies, we’re still kind of stabbing in the dark. We’ve done worst case scenario in the pricing ,” May said. “Now that we have a property to pursue, we can get more concrete numbers.”

Currently, Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce is planning to introduce an ordinance to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly asking voters to approve an approximately $5 million bond package to help finance the school. The state promised approximately $10 million for the construction in June 2016, but the borough is required to provide a match.

According to Mueller, now that the blue site has been approved by the board, the next step is to start working on land acquisition.

Reach Kat Sorensen at ksorensen@peninsulaclarion.com

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