The State of Alaska has reduced the price tag on the K-12 Kachemak Selo School replacement project, but Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre says it is no more palatable.
In an Aug. 22 letter to Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Sean Dusek, Elizabeth Nudelman, School Finance and Facilities director for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, reports the $16.7 million cost estimate is lowered to $13.7 million due to a drop in enrollment at the school. The revision lightens the required local share by more than $1 million to roughly $4.7 million.
“In the current fiscal situation the borough still can’t come up with a 30 to 35 percent match,” Navarre said. “It’s still another $5-6 million the (borough) is not likely to pony up for 55 students or however many are at the school right now.”
The replacement school sat on the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development’s construction grant list for two years before the Legislature agreed to fund the project this spring.
Original designs planned for construction of an 18,599-square-foot facility that would have room for 63 currently unhoused students. In her letter, Nudelman wrote the new allowable footage would be 15,226 — an 18 percent reduction.
Even with the smaller space, construction would cost $285,416 per student.
School Principal Timothy Whip said the number of students attending the school has slowly declined from 75 since 2011. Enrollment is largely due to families with children moving in and out of the Russian Old Believer village, which is located roughly 30 miles south of Homer. Since 2014 attendance hovered right around 50 students, he said.
For the past few months, Navarre has asked local and state officials, including members of Gov. Bill Walker’s staff, to consider reducing size requirements for the new school regardless of enrollment, as well as for more flexibility during construction and for housing labor.
Currently, Alaska statute has requirements for schools constructed in rural areas.
For combined elementary and secondary schools, 114 square feet of space must be made available per elementary student and 165 square feet per secondary student.
“However, each type of school gets supplemental square footage based on a formula,” said Eric Fry, information officer for the Department of Education and Early Development, in a previous Clarion interview.
Right now, K-Selo’s students attend class in multiple buildings. Total utilized educational space right now is only roughly 4,000 square feet.
Many students walk to and from school for lunch because there is no room in the buildings where everyone can congregate at once.
Most students are excited about the prospect of a new school, especially having a multipurpose room or gym to eat and play in when it’s cold, Whip said.
“The community just wants a good solid building that is built like a school as opposed to having three separate buildings spread across the village,” he said.
Each building has significant safety hazards, including slanting and sinking foundations, light fixtures with no coverings and potential exposure to toxic chemicals due to the lack of storage space. These and other issues were documented in a 2014 condition survey. One of the buildings was actually a house before it was turned into a school. Staff have reported fault locks and chronic plumbing issues, and students have questioned the how sound the structures would be in the event of a natural disaster.
“The students at Kachemak Selo need a new school,” said Paul Ostrander, chief of staff for the borough. “How that will look, I don’t know.”
It may be some time before any major movements are made, if at all. The borough still has to determine how much the local contribution will be, which depends on how successful Navarre is at selling his ideas to lower costs.
At Monday’s Board of Education meeting, the group approved transferring responsibility of the project and the state’s now $8.9 million contribution from the school district to the borough.
Superintendent Sean Dusek said the state’s fiscal situation will have a role in how the project plays out, and that the school district will still be weighing in.
“We will be working with the borough to see how this project can be done as efficiently as possible over the next few months,” he said.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.