Quake-related repairs and improvements at Anchorage schools could top $150 million

Repairs and seismic upgrades at Anchorage-area schools damaged in the Nov. 30 earthquake could cost more than $150 million, according to the latest Anchorage School District projections.

The district estimates two schools need more than $20 million to repair and improve seismic performance, six may cost at least $10 million and improvement projects at 14 schools could cost at least $1 million each.

The latest price tag is triple the district’s initial cost estimates. The new estimates include both the repairs needed in the immediate aftermath of the quake and optional improvements that would improve the schools’ quake readiness, cautioned ASD Chief Operating Officer Tom Roth.

“It would bring them up to a higher level of seismic performance so we wouldn’t have the kinds of problems in the next earthquake,” he said.

A list outlining the projected costs has been posted to the ASD website’s “Hot Topics” page.

Among the schools with the highest projected costs on the list: $23.9 million for Gruening Middle School, $23.4 million for East High, $15 million for Bartlett High, $13.6 million for Central Middle School, $12.4 million for Eagle River Elementary and $11 million for Eagle River High.

So far, Roth said, the district has spent roughly $8 million to $9 million districtwide on the post-quake repairs needed to get its facilities back into working condition.

The Anchorage School Board has previously approved $36 million in funding to repair Gruening and Eagle River Elementary, both of which were closed after the magnitude 7.1 quake and are not expected to reopen until at least the 2020-21 school year. The earthquake temporarily shuttered all Anchorage schools for a week, canceling classes for all students. Students at Gruening have been since moved temporarily to Chugiak High, while Eagle River Elementary students have been divided between three area elementary schools.

District officials have previously said they’re hopeful federal emergency funds can pay for most of the repair costs. In December, district officials estimated repair costs could reach $50 million, but superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop later cautioned the estimates were only preliminary and said the price tag was likely to grow.

Roth said any projects the district decides to move ahead with will be part of an upcoming bond package to be put before voters. No decisions have been made as to which additional projects to seek funding for, he said, but it’s not likely the district will seek a bond package much larger than the amount of debt it’s retiring. Instead, only funding for the highest priority projects will be sought.

“I would envision that proposition going forward to the board will be heavily weighted toward earthquake damage repair,” he said.

He said the federal government will cover 75% of reimbursable earthquake repairs, with the state expected to cover the rest through emergency funds. How much of the repairs will be considered earthquake related has yet to be determined, though that process is ongoing.

“The intent here is to pursue federal and state funding for the repairs, but it’s a retroactive reimbursement process,” Roth said.

The ASD website includes spreadsheets detailing the estimated cost of repairs at 86 schools as well as the district’s transportation and nutrition centers, its maintenance building and its purchasing warehouse. The projected costs range from $1,921.16 spent at Kennedy Elementary to the planned work at Gruening, which needs a new roof and other structural repairs.

Chugiak-Eagle River schools were hardest hit by the quake, with seven of the 12 most expensive projects needed at schools in the muni’s northernmost neighborhoods. Of the total $151 million cost estimate districtwide, the district’s numbers show roughly $70 million will be needed between 11 Chugiak-Eagle River schools.

Roth said detailed architectural and engineering reports were prepared for 15 district schools, including seven in Chugiak-Eagle River. The reports showed schools generally held up well in the earthquake, and Roth said the district’s facilities are safe for students to return to this fall -- even if another quake hits.

“I’m confident these schools will perform as well as they did in the last earthquake,” he said.

However, he said the district will be looking at what kinds of repairs can be made that will make the schools safer in the event of an even larger quake in the future. What kind of projects are funded, however, will ultimately be a question for voters.

“It’s really a decision for the district and the public.”