By Lou Theiss
Special to the Turnagain Times
Finally, after nearly 10 years of working its way up the Anchorage School District Capital Improvement Priority list, the Girdwood K-8 School renewal will be on the April 2 area-wide ballot for $23 million in construction money as part of a $54.8 million school bond proposition. It is the only large school project up for approval this year.
The Girdwood K-8 is 9 percent over capacity and the population is growing. According to school district data, Girdwood’s Educational Adequacy Index (EAI) is the lowest in the district (actually expressed as an ascending progression). How low? Three times lower than the next lowest school. There is a long list of inadequacies: undersized primary classrooms, an inadequately sized gym, no junior high science classroom, limited spaces for ancillary services, limited performance, art and music space, no middle school elective space, no multipurpose room, and no common area.
The pathway to school renewal is long and difficult. There are 93 school facilities in the district. Many schools have facility issues. Only about 53 percent of school bonds pass, yet every year the district must renew a few schools because building systems wear out, programs change and enrollments bulge. The competition can get fierce. Focusing voter attention on specific needs can get difficult. Failing to keep up with renewal projects lowers learning opportunity and increases the cost of capital. A few years ago the school district started using a Facility Condition Index and the EAI to prioritize projects. It helps assure voters that the most needed projects go forward rather than those with the strongest political backing.
The Girdwood K-8 renewal first appeared on a school bond in 2004 for planning money. Bonds that included this money failed twice. The project was also skipped over several times to accommodate more immediate district needs. Finally some of the planning money ($49,000) came through a legislative grant. In 2008, master-planning money was approved by area-wide vote. The resulting master plan renovates 28,300 square feet and adds 30,300 square feet. It expands existing classrooms and adds new classrooms. In addition it would allow for a science lab, computer lab, gym with overhead track adequate for the school and community, and resource/support areas.
This was done through a collaborative process that included community members. In 2009, design money failed and again in 2011 (there was also a 2010 bond holiday). Finally, in 2012, the area-wide voters approved $2.4 million for the actual designs called for in the master plan. The award of this design contract is currently before the school board for final approval.
The outstanding capital debt of the district has been in decline for the last decade. More debt has been retired than taken on by a factor of 2:1. Proposition 1, the school bond, will be eligible for 60 to 70 percent legislative reimbursement. After state reimbursement property taxes will increase $4.85 a year (for 20 years) on each $100,000 of assessed value if this bond passes. However, because repayment continues to exceed new debt, taxpayers will see no increase due to school construction. An average homeowner will take on less than $15 of new debt per year. The AAA ratings of our Municipal and school district bonds states that our debt service program is a well managed risk and investors are willing to accept lower rates of interest. These are all positives to voters
Girdwood has almost never fared well on area-wide bond prop approvals. Ironically, we have overwhelmingly supported every bond that’s come along from Eagle River to Goldenview but have rarely experienced reciprocity without riding on the coattails of a more politically powerful section of town.
This year Bartlett High School needs a new cafeteria ($4.7 million) and Aurora School (JBER) needs a gym ($5.75 million. Another $20 million of the bond is for various small design and renewal projects spread across the district. There are not a lot of votes over on JBER side of town.
Except for West High School, the other high schools are in good shape, and except for Central High School, the middle schools are fairly up to date. If you lived in these attendance areas how would you vote?
I refer to the projects on Proposition 1 as the “orphans”. This bond may prove difficult to pass, but the Girdwood project has been vetted continuously for 10 years. Renewal projects for any individual school come around every 40 or 50 years. Let’s make sure the Girdwood K-8 renewal is sufficient to fulfill our needs for many years to come.
To fully understand the master plan go to:http://www.asdk12.org/renewal/ES/girdwood_renewal/
Louis Theiss is School Bonds Yes Treasurer. He is not affiliated with the Anchorage School District. He is a parent and has lived in Girdwood for over 30 years.