Matanuska-Susitna Borough

School fire cause, undetermined

Palmer | Patty Sullivan | Monday, June 11, 2007

The cause of the fire that burned down Su Valley High last Tuesday is undetermined, according to the State Fire Marshal's office.

Mechanical, electrical, natural, and intentional causes have been ruled out, a State Trooper press release says. "There are too many remaining 'likely' possibilities for fire investigators to determine the exact cause of the fire."

The MAT-SU Borough Assembly and School Board were given this update the night of their joint meeting last night. Central MAT-SU Fire Chief Michael Keenan told the joint board how responders dumped more than 500,000 gallons of water on the fire and actively fought the blaze until 3 am in an effort to save the building. Only after two back draft explosions, did firefighters retreat.

Borough and school officials are working out the specifics on how to build a new school and where 185 students and 25 staff will attend school in just two months. School starts Aug. 20.

Borough Assembly members and School Board Members acknowledged the planning efforts of the Su Valley Parent Teacher Student Association, which has made known that it wants students to attend school at the nearby Upper Susitna Senior Center rather than commute to other schools.

Su Valley High school grounds are about 58 miles north of Wasilla, 14 miles south of Talkeetna, near the "Y" also known as the Junction of the Talkeetna Spur Highway and the George Parks Highway.
Preliminary costs to locate at the center would be about $2.5 million.

Eight portables remain at the site. At least 10 to 12 more would be needed to be built at a cost of about $95,000 each. The district is short portables now with 68 being used and more in demand, according to school officials.

Assembly members asked for an emergency meeting to manage the fallout from the fire. It's set for Tuesday, June 19 at 4 pm in the Assembly chambers.

Assembly Member Tom Kluberton represents the affected communities of Trapper Creek, Sunshine, Talkeetna and northern Willow. Kluberton asked for a prioritized list of portables for the school district with descriptions characterizing the uses, so a decision can be made. No school (at all) trumps a crowded school, he said.

Borough Mayor Curt Menard shares the opinion. "The community has been through a lot in the past several years. I will do all I can to see that portables are on site at the senior center, and that school can start Aug. 20," Menard said.

At the time of the fire the school was under construction for a new roof. Of a $5.5 million grant for that project from the state, some $4.2 million remains. The Borough will have to get approval from the Legislature in order to redirect those funds toward either an interim school or a new school construction project. Borough Manager John Duffy is already pursuing that.

Duffy is pursuing disaster funds similar to those that the community of Hooper Bay sought after its school burned down last August. Through the State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Duffy will follow the procedures to issue a disaster declaration. Such funds might be obtained to set up an interim school site or to help rebuild the school, Duffy said.

Duffy also said he expects a statement of what the insurance company will pay for replacement of the school and possibly its contents by early next week.

For more information call Public Affairs Manager Patty Sullivan at (907) 861-8577.