The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education revisited their six-year Capital Improvement Plan at last Monday’s school board meeting. Two projects at the top of the priority list included facility concerns with schools in K-Selo and Nanwalek.
The six-year plan outlines the most important infrastructure projects in local schools from 2021–2026.
After a $5 million bond package failed at the polls, a new school for the Old Believer village of Kachemak Selo was added back to the top of the district’s capital project priority list. Currently, the district is leasing three buildings to use as the school. The buildings are not code-compliant and in disrepair, according to the project description in the six-year plan. A state grant worth more than $10 million was awarded to the borough to help offset costs for the new school, but without the $5 million in matching funds, the grant expires in June. The borough is pursuing an extension of the state’s grant to allow more time to find matching funds.
At last Monday’s school board work sessions, Vice President Zen Kelly asked district director of planning and operations, David May, what building options the borough had, and if a cheaper option for a school was possible.
“After the bond proposition failed, it seemed like people wanted a smaller footprint, they wanted something different — not as expensive,” Kelly said. “What are our options right now looking at that project? Would that do away with the grant we received and are trying to extend?”
May said the district is trying to determine possibilities with the state Department of Education and Early Development (DEED).
“From the little conversations I’ve had with DEED staff, they really are expecting the education specifications to be followed that the grant was written around,” May said. “That’s an answer and a question for someone above my pay grade to get through.”
The village of K-Selo petitioned the school board for a new school in 2011.
Second on the district’s capital project priority list is Nanwalek Middle/High School. The school, which is set to serve a max of 60 students, is currently at 125 percent capacity with around 75 students. According to the six-year plan, the pupil size is expected to rise and the capacity could be at 150 percent next school year.
School board member Dan Castimore asked if there was a short-term plan to alleviate the school’s overcrowding.
“I know there was a discussion of portables,” Castimore said. “Do we have any plans in place at all? Seems like that should be a higher priority? I hope we get something done there. We can’t let it get to 300 percent.”
Nanwalek is currently facing a housing shortage for teachers and community members.
“Housing shortage is the main thing that is keeping that village from growing, and the housing they have now — public housing — some apartments they have two or three families sharing an apartment,” May said. “So, it’s really critical for them to find the additional property so they can get additional housing going.”
Superintendent Sean Dusek said the district is seeking more teacher housing now.
May said the district is also waiting to hear more about a potential airport project that would connect Nanwalek and Port Graham, making it possible for the two villages to potentially share a school.
“With that airport, a road would connect those two villages, which could perhaps give us a little bit of slack in sharing facilities with Port Graham and Nanwalek. However, as you look at the numbers there isn’t a lot of room in Port Graham either. It wasn’t intended to be a large school. If someone has a large barge that we can turn into classrooms and we could just beach it. That would be helpful.”
Since last Monday’s school board work sessions, Gov. Mike Dunleavy released his proposed budget, which cut public education by about $300 million. If the proposed budget is passed, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District would face an unprecedented $20 million cut. Such a cut would likely postpone all capital project expenditures.