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ASD asks for $57.2 million bond package, including fixes for decrepit Airport Heights Elementary

Michelle Theriault Boots
School nurse Leanne Wahl awaits patients in her cramped office at Airport Heights Elementary School on Thursday, March 20, 2014, in east Anchorage.
Erik Hill
Airport Heights Elementary School was originally built in 1954, with minor additions carried out in 1972 and 1987. The school has no multipurpose room, uses several relocatable classrooms, and has little off-street parking.
Erik Hill
An old shower stall is used for storage at Airport Heights Elementary School on Thursday, March 20, 2014, in east Anchorage.
Erik Hill
A piano and music stands are stored in the front hallway at cramped Airport Heights Elementary School on Thursday, March 20, 2014, in east Anchorage.
Erik Hill

A $57.2 million Anchorage School District bond package will go before voters in Tuesday's municipal election.

The biggest-ticket item is a $22 million overhaul of Airport Heights Elementary, a neighborhood school so strapped for space that students undergo standardized testing in the sprinkler room and tutors work from a rug-and-pillow "office" in the hallway.

Other projects in the bond package include $28.5 million in school renovations. Among them: $550,000 in upgrades to West High School's roof and the $5.2 million replacement of electrical systems at Huffman Elementary School.

This time around, the district is also looking for $5.9 million to fund planning and design projects for aging elementary schools like Gladys Wood and Turnagain.

Anchorage voters have approved the last couple of bond packages.

The last one that failed was $53 million of renovations to Service High School and other schools, in April 2011.

If the bond proposition passes, Anchorage property owners would pay about $4.86 for every $100,000 of their assessed property value, per year. That includes expected state reimbursement for 60 percent to 70 percent of project costs. The state only reimburses bonded projects, said ASD spokeswoman Heidi Embley. Without the state reimbursements, the figure would rise to $13.86 per $100,000 of assessed property value.

But Airport Heights Elementary has the most pressing need for new facilities, the district says.

The school opened in 1954, making it one of the oldest in the district. Some limited renovations were done in the 1980s but for the most part the school is the same as it was 60 years ago, when its student population was much smaller and things like pull-out classrooms for English language learners or special education students didn't exist.

Space is at a premium at Airport Heights: For a time, the assistant principal and a school psychologist were shoehorned together into a space no bigger than a dressing room, said principal Michael Webb, who has been at the school for seven years. The psychologist's closet-sized nook included a defunct shower, now used to store files.

Right now, music, art, health and English as a second language services are held in portables that are either boiling hot or too cold.

The cafeteria doubles as the gym. In the past, tight scheduling would leave janitors mopping floors as students were supposed to be in physical education class.

"We have students eat in their classrooms so we don't have to do P.E. in the hallway," Webb said.

There's no loading dock area, so hallways are sometimes stacked with pallets of goods being delivered.

Tutors who visit the Title I school to help students catch up on reading or math sometimes work in the hallways too.

In the hall outside one classroom, an area rug and some pillows sit below a sign that reads "Mrs. Carla's Office."

A sprinkler room also stores books and sometimes hosts students being tested for one of many required assessments. The room is nicknamed the "ice box" because it gets so cold.

"You can see your breath in this room at zero degrees," Webb said.

Sometimes classrooms get cold too, thanks to the antiquated, energy-inefficient design.

Once or twice, Webb has moved jacket-wearing students out of a classroom because of the chill.

The new design would bring art, music and health classes inside and create new, flexible spaces to expand classrooms, he said. Multipurpose space would create a cafeteria, and special education classrooms would be clustered around spaces for services like speech therapy.

"We're not asking for the Taj Mahal," Webb said. "We just want to be functional."

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
mtheriault@adn.com