Wrangell Public Schools and the local borough are seeking a condition survey to prioritize renovations to the community’s aging school buildings.
The school district operates two campuses which are located about three blocks apart. The buildings – an elementary, middle and high school – were built between 1969 and 1985, with expansions and periodic upgrades from the 1980s to the 2000s and early 2010s.
Wrangell’s elementary school occupies one campus, and has a two-part building. The primary building, originally housing kindergarten through third grade, was built in 1969 and upgraded in 1982. The intermediate portion of the building, for fourth through sixth graders, was built in 1979 and upgraded in 2003.
What is now the middle school building was built at the secondary school campus at the same time as the intermediate portion of the elementary school in 1979. The middle school was originally built as a vocational education building. It was upgraded along with the intermediate elementary school building in 2003.
Also at the secondary school campus, Wrangell High School was built in two phases – mainly focusing on classrooms in 1985 and the gym, lockers and commons in 1987. The high school received minimal upgrades in 2011.
But even with renovations over the years, the buildings themselves are aging and major maintenance needs at the schools are piling up. The estimated cost to fix it all could be as much as $10 million. But if all goes according to plan, that wouldn’t all be paid by the borough and school district.
Mayor Patty Gilbert says that the borough is trying to qualify for a state education grant program that could more than triple the amount of project money available.
“We passed a $3.5 million bond, the public voted in favor of that,” she explained at a special borough meeting May 1, “And the school is trying to maximize the return on that bond money to up to $6.5 million for a total of $10 million. One of the conditions for the grant being awarded to Wrangell Public Schools is this condition survey.”
A condition survey will tell the school district and borough exactly what’s needed for repairs. It’s a pricey project. After a competitive bid process, the borough selected Juneau-based Northwind Architects to complete the survey of the school buildings. It’ll cost $266,000, paid out of a pot of federal money given to former logging communities. The assembly also approved an additional $30,000 to set aside as contingency funding.
Northwind Architects is the same group that recently did a condition assessment on the community’s Public Safety Building. It’s also in rough shape, but borough voters rejected a bond measure last October that would have funded renovations to the building, which houses the police, volunteer fire department, courthouse, DMV and jail.
Capital Facilities Director Amber Al-Haddad explained at the May 1 special meeting that the borough selected Northwind Architects because of their strong application that focused on experience providing surveys for communities hoping to secure just the kind of grant that Wrangell is gunning for.
“Both firms that submitted proposals are very well-qualified,” Al-Haddad said, adding: “Northwind spoke much more to their past experience developing condition surveys for the Department of Education CIP projects […] which is what kind of pushed them over as far as the [bid] scoring goes and put them as ranked number one.”
If the survey stays on schedule, it should be complete by mid-July. That’ll give the borough a few months to review the survey and prepare its application to the state education grant program to try and leverage additional funding to repair the schools.
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