Gruening remodel pulled from bond package

Tuesday, December 15, 2015 - 13:35

The Anchorage School Board sent its proposed bond package to the Anchorage Assembly last week for its approval for inclusion on the April 2016 ballot, but only after removing funding for remodeling Gruening Middle School and upgrades to two other district schools.

“Students in one-third of our schools will have a direct benefit from the projects on this proposal,” Ed Graff, Anchorage School District superintendent, said in a district press release.

The bond package most likely will be discussed at the joint school board/assembly meeting tomorrow, Dec. 11, from 10 a.m. to noon at the district board room.

The $49.3 million district-wide proposed bond package does include nearly $5 million in improvements for six schools in the Chugiak-Eagle River area.

The bulk of that is $4.1 million designated for Chugiak High School. Replacing of portions of the heating system — some of it dating back to 1985 — as well replacing water heating systems and heating coils is included.

Replacing analog security cameras with IP cameras and adding additional cameras in areas of the building not currently well-covered is also scheduled at CHS.

IP stands for “Internet Protocol.” It is commonly used for surveillance and unlike analog closed circuit television cameras, an IP camera can send and receive data via computer networks and the internet. IP cameras provide clearer images, prevent playback loss and provide administrators with remote access capabilities.

Birchwood ABC and Chugiak elementary schools plus Eagle River High School and Mirror Lake Middle School are also switching to IP cameras and expanding coverage.

The April 2016 bond package proposal represents the first time in several years that the district kept replacement or reconstruction items out of its request. School board members say it is in keeping with community input that the next bond package be a “modest request” stretching dollars across a number of improvements throughout the district. In total, projects at 36 schools are included in the proposed bond package.

It is also part of the belt-tightening reality the state of Alaska’s five-year moratorium on school bond reimbursement which began on Jan. 1, 2015, has brought to the ASD. Prior to the moratorium, the ASD routinely received reimbursements totaling 60 to 70 percent of school bonds. It made the passage of larger bond packages an easier sell to Anchorage voters.

Should this bond package be approved, Anchorage taxpayers are responsible for every last cent. The ASD’s chief financial officer, Mark Foster, said a property tax increase of $11.55 per $100,000 of assessed property value is the price tag. 

“With the loss of state reimbursement for bonded school construction projects, the board must carefully weigh district needs with the level of community support,” Kameron Perez-Verdia, ASD board president, said in the same district-generated press release as Graff. “We shifted the focus of our bond proposal in order to address life safety and immediate needs at our schools.”

The security camera upgrades at Birchwood and Chugiak elementary schools are $63,000 each. Costs at ERHS and MLMS are $210,000 and $279,000, respectively, due to the expansion of security camera coverage plus the replacement of the variable frequency drive control system at MLMS.

The $211,000 Homestead Elementary portion of the bond would pay for replacing the school’s back-up generator, five perimeter cabinet heaters and classroom ventilators that district maintenance has identified as being beyond the “expected useful life.”

Under municipal regulation, school bonds must pass by a simple majority or 50.1 percent or greater margin with voters. In April 2015, Anchorage voters approved a $59.3 million bond package by 53 percent.

ASD leaders took note.

That vote was just a little too close for comfort.

In early September of this year, the district lost its battle with the state to get the 2015 bond package — which was proposed to the Anchorage Assembly in the fall of 2014 prior to the Jan. 1, 2015, moratorium — reimbursed. It left school leadership leery of proposing a bond package that voters would not approve due to the fact that the state would not contribute.

This fall, the Anchorage-based Hays Research Group was given an $11,000 contract for a public-opinion poll of 1,000 Anchorage voters testing their bond dollars tolerance between the $45 and $55 million range and determining what type of projects voters preferred.

Survey results indicated 21 percent of voters favored not remodeling schools but supported relocating students. The majority of those polled, 53 percent, indicated they were in favor of remodeling existing schools. Based on this information, district numbers’ crunchers removed $3.5 million from the original bond proposal package.

Learn more about ASD bonds online at www.asdk12.org/bonds.

Connect with Amy Armstrong via email at [email protected] or online at www.facebook.com/pages/Armstrong-Communications-Words-by-Amy-Marie.

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