Work is progressing on major Kenai Peninsula Borough School District projects funded by a $65.5 million bond project that passed last year. That’s an update given to the KPBSD Board of Education earlier this month from the district and from the Kenai Peninsula Borough, which owns and maintains school facilities
More than 57% of voters last year approved the bond package, which will fund deferred maintenance projects at 10 KPBSD schools.
KPBSD Director of Planning and Operations Kevin Lyon told board members during a June 5 work session there are “good things coming” for the school district as bids on various projects come in. Still, there are some challenges to getting so many projects off the ground at once.
John Hedges, the director of purchasing and contracting for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, said during the same work session that the borough is up against a “contractor’s marketplace,” which favors the people building projects rather than those who need projects built.
“What we’re seeing in some of the solicitations, even non-school related projects that we’re doing, is we’re struggling to find engineers and architects that can provide the services that we’re requesting,” Hedges said. “Their workload is really heavy right now.”
When it comes to the new concession stand and restroom for Kenai Central High School’s Ed Hollier Field, for example, the borough formalized their intent to award a contract to Architects of Alaska on May 25. However, the project has been delayed because design services for the project were limited.
“(It’s) not known at this point if the design can be completed in time for construction to start this season,” a document summarizing project work says.
Regarding the replacement of Soldotna Elementary School — the most expensive project in the bond package — a steering group is about halfway done with developing a document describing the educational specifications of the building. Once that document, called an EdSpec, is finished, it will be sent to the school board for approval.
The borough and school district’s hope is to bundle the replacement of Soldotna Elementary School with the reconfiguration of Soldotna Prep School, which is currently vacant. As part of the reconfiguration, KPBSD’s Soldotna Montessori Charter School, Connections Homeschool and River City Academy will relocate to the building alongside the district’s administrative offices.
Once the school board approves the EdSpec document, the borough will issue a request for proposals from firms interested in designing the school. The borough hopes to start the design process in August and for the design of Soldotna Elementary and Soldotna Prep schools to be coordinated.
Other projects included in the bond package approved last year include the replacement of tracks and fields at Nikiski Middle/High and Seward High schools, upgrades to student drop-off and pick-up areas at several schools and security improvements at Kenai Middle School, among others.
Work is also underway, Hedges and Lyon said, in the remote community of Kachemak Selo, at the head of Kachemak Bay. Efforts to replace the community’s school, which operates out of three dilapidated residential buildings, have been ongoing for years.
The document provided to the school board says geotechnical work that recently concluded in the area verified the ability of a proposed school site to support a building. Now, the borough says it has started “preliminary discussion” with property owners in the area about securing land at that site.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly earlier this year included Kachemak Selo on a capital project wish list it sent to state lawmakers in Juneau. The borough received from the State of Alaska a grant sufficient to pay for a $15 million project. As part of that grant, the borough would pay for $5 million and the state would pay for $10 million.
Former Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre told assembly members in February that the borough has set aside about $3 million for the local match. However, the borough has questioned whether or not $15 million is needed to build a new school. Rather, the borough has considered whether or not to build a new community facility for the village that could double as a K-12 school.
In order for that to happen, though, the $10 million awarded by the state would need to be moved from the Department of Education and Early Development, which has specific guidelines for how grants can be used. Hedges told board members that the borough is working with the state to determine what kinds of expenses grant funds can be used for.
“At this point, I don’t think I can show a construction completion date because we’re still discussing exactly where to go from here in regards to funding and being able to design to a certain level of funding,” Hedges said.
The school board’s June 5 meetings will be available to stream on KPBSD’s BoardDocs page at go.boarddocs.com/ak/kpbsd/Board.nsf/Public.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at email@example.com.