Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Aging Su Valley High may get new life

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Monday, January 23, 2006

SU VALLEY HIGH - Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, walked the halls of Su Valley High on Jan. 16, with parents, Assembly Members, and an architect, taking a closer look at a 33-year-old school that might get new life. Last spring, the school's roof was found to be too weak for heavy snow loads. At the request of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly and the School Board, Sen. Huggins and fellow Legislators from the MAT-SU are seeking $5.5 million in emergency funding. The fast-track funding is hoped to quickly repair an unsafe roof without disrupting much of the school year. Calling the new roof a pretty good deal for students and a great deal for taxpayers, Sen. Huggins said he understood that the Borough and the School District are trying to hold down the cost to residents. "It's not going to cost the taxpayer money," Huggins said of the supplemental request. "A new school, however, would be smaller and the taxpayers would pay for it," Huggins said. A new school would cost $15 million. It would be smaller than the existing 52,500-square foot building because the state Department of Education bases school size on enrollment numbers. Less than 200 students are enrolled. Instead, the community that rallied behind Su Valley has urged local leaders to pursue the most likely alternative: a new roof. Assemblywoman Betty Vehrs represents the northern district of the Borough, where she said some residents feel shortchanged on their taxes because they are farther from services and slower to get new public buildings because of their smaller population. Getting the new roof made locals feel like they were heard, Vehrs said, of the grass roots effort. Sunshine is 58 miles north of Wasilla. "Because of the strong support in the community, it made a new roof the top priority for the Assembly and now for Legislators. That's to me, how it should work, from the bottom up," Vehrs said. At $5.5 million, the emergency funding will not only replace an unsafe roof, but will upgrade the safety of the aging building. For $4.6 million the roof will be replaced along with siding and windows. The central core of the building will also be reinforced, according to the design architect Blase Burkhart. For another $900,000 some 15 safety upgrades could be done, among them: replacing the fume hood in the science classroom, replacing stairways, and upgrading the emergency lighting system. The projected cost is $105 per square foot, far below the average cost for new school construction at $225 per square foot. The newest safety upgrades were discovered after a survey of the building requested by Assemblyman Bill Allen. Allen had asked that the school get a checkup before a new roof was put on an old building. "I wanted to make sure that the functional components were sound and had an expected economic life of 15 years. It's met those tests," Allen said. If the supplemental request is granted, the construction phase is expected to begin in May. The next step would be awarding a construction contract. The school is expected to be completed in December. The Borough is planning a town hall meeting to hear feedback from residents on the design, which is nearly 65 percent done. Borough and school officials have estimated how many portables will be required to house students during construction. Each portable costs $80,000 at a minimum. So far, the Borough has identified enough money for six portables. If part of the school is functional during the construction season six portables would be required. If the entire school population is moved out of the building eight more portables would be needed for a total of 14 portables. To keep portable costs lower, the outside wings of the building could be completed before school begins so classes can be used, while the central part of the school would be the construction zone during the school year. Architect Burkhart said his firm safely built a new school around school kids in the village of Selawik. The gym and library would be in the construction zone. "There will be some sacrifices initially, but well worth it," Sen. Huggins said. During renovation, residents can expect timely updates on construction from the Borough via KTNA radio and the Talkeetna Times newspaper, among others. For more information, contact Borough Manager John Duffy at 745-9689.