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Eagle River’s Gruening Middle School will be closed for rest of school year because of earthquake damage

Workers on Tuesday remove non-structural concrete siding damaged in Friday's quake inside Gruening Middle School in Eagle River. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Gruening Middle School will be closed for the rest of the school year because of damage from last week’s earthquake, the Anchorage School District superintendent announced Wednesday.

Gruening is the third school in Southcentral Alaska to shutter for the rest of the school year after sustaining severe damage from the 7.0 quake. District officials announced Tuesday that Eagle River Elementary School, less than 2 miles away from Gruening, will also be closed for the rest of the year.

Houston Middle School in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District also won’t reopen this school year. School district officials there have cast doubt on whether it would even open next year.

The 600 students who attend Gruening Middle School will be re-assigned to Chugiak High School for the remainder of the school year, said Anchorage Schools Superintendent Deena Bishop. Gruening teachers and staff will also move to the high school, she said.

“We need all hands on deck,” Bishop said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

All Anchorage public schools are closed this week while the district cleans up widespread damage from the earthquake.

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Bishop said she expected Gruening students to resume classes on Tuesday, while the rest of the district’s students -- including those from Eagle River Elementary -- return to school on Monday.

The 400 Eagle River Elementary students will split between two other elementary schools: Birchwood ABC Elementary in Chugiak and Homestead Elementary in Eagle River, according to the school district.

The district continued to repair and clean up its schools Wednesday. Teachers also returned to work across the district, though not all could return to their classrooms because of safety concerns.

Each of the district’s dozens of school buildings sustained some kind of damage, from broken ceiling tiles to scattered books to flooding to structural damage, the district has said.

“It’s still a recovery effort and it’s going to be a recovery effort, frankly, for months,” said Tom Roth, district chief operating officer.

Bear Valley Elementary 6th grade teacher Elizabeth Stadnicky, left, gets helps sorting through water damaged books from Spring Hill Elementary 6th grade teachers Rick Wien and Marco Christian on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, as they get the school ready to open next Monday. (Bill Roth / ADN)

At Bear Valley Elementary School off Rabbit Creek Road on the Hillside, teachers cataloged earthquake damage around the building on Wednesday. Teachers from Spring Hill Elementary helped too. Their school wasn’t yet deemed safe.

The school district asked teachers to use blue tape to mark damages such as cracks along walls and floors. They were also asked to take photographs of the damages. Bear Valley principal Carissa Coté described the process as “daunting.”

Friday’s earthquake had scattered teaching materials and sent ceiling tiles crashing to the floor. Cabinets flew open and some lights were left dangling from their cords.

Aaron Johnson of 907 Fire Protection, Inc. makes repairs the earthquake damaged fire suppression system in the multipurpose room at Bear Valley Elementary on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. (Bill Roth / ADN)
Bear Valley Elementary principal Carissa Coté points out earthquake damage being repaired in the multipurpose room on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. (Bill Roth / ADN)

A lot of repairs had happened since Friday and more were underway, Coté said. She praised everyone’s work to repair the school and her staff’s response during the quake.

“If I could go back in time I would have zero criticism,” she said. “It was like textbook.”

Across the district, just two people reported suffering minor injuries in the earthquake, said Catherine Esary, school district spokeswoman.

By Wednesday evening, the district had labeled 55 of its schools and buildings green, meaning they were safe and staff can re-enter. There were 52 labeled yellow, meaning they were damaged and repairs or cleanup were ongoing.

Bishop said she expected all of the schools in yellow status to be moved to green before Monday.

At Gruening Middle School, the district was dealing with a gas leak and damage to a stairwell, Roth said. The school, built in 1984, also had major damage to a concrete facade in its interior.

“That was the part that came down, not the structure itself, the steel beams held tightly,” Bishop said. “... Perhaps not a good design in the state of Alaska for earthquakes.”

Damaged non-structural concrete siding at Gruening Middle School on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. Parts of the school have not been inspected after Friday's 7.0 earthquake, and officials are waiting for the results of those inspections before making a determination about whether to open the school next week. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

At the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, students were expected to return to most schools Thursday, with a half-dozen reopening to students on Tuesday.

But officials had yet to determine when six others would reopen: Colony High School and Colony Middle School; Finger Lake Elementary School; Houston High School; Knik Elementary School; and Mat-Su Central School.

Information on the status of those schools will be available Thursday, officials said in an update posted Wednesday.

Meanwhile, classes resumed at the University of Alaska Anchorage on Wednesday after crews worked around-the-clock to repair the campus, said Ryan Buchholdt, UAA’s incident commander for the earthquake response. Damage included crumbled ceilings and heating system leaks, he said.

UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen said she walked through much of campus Wednesday and it seemed just like any other day. Students were studying, faculty were teaching classes.

“It’s almost like it never happened,” Sandeen said of the earthquake. “I’m really proud of the team.”

UAA’s Chugiak-Eagle River Campus remained closed Wednesday, though classes were resuming in other locations, Sandeen said. The Anchorage School District’s Alaska Middle College School is also located on that campus, and its classes were resuming elsewhere, according to the district.

Students at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage resumed classes Monday.

Tegan Hanlon reported from Anchorage and Zaz Hollander reported from the Mat-Su.

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