Anchorage School District earthquake damage could approach $50 million

It could cost between $25 million and $50 million to return the Anchorage School District to the condition it was in before the Nov. 30 earthquake, according to the district’s initial estimates.

The preliminary cost estimates include everything from repairing major damage such as crumbling walls to cleaning up flooding to buying trash bags to replacing classroom materials such as computers, said Jim Anderson, district chief financial officer.

Anderson underscored that the estimates were the district’s best guess as of Tuesday and based on projections. While preliminary, the estimates provide a sense of the extent of quake-related repairs, clean up and replacements at the state’s largest school district.

“It’s really just an estimate right now because there’s so much information we don’t have,” Anderson said.

Costs will become more clear throughout the month as the school district receives itemized bills from the 11 contractors it hired in the wake of the earthquake and as crews continue to assess damage at the district’s 92 buildings from Chugiak to Girdwood. The buildings have a combined floor space of 7.8 million square feet.

“We know there’s going to be more damage we just don’t know what it is yet,” Anderson said. “Hopefully we’ll have a better, more accurate list by the end of this semester.”

A big question that remains: How much will it cost to repair Gruening Middle School in Eagle River and Eagle River Elementary School? The district decided to close both of the schools for the rest of the school year because of extensive quake damage. Detailed structural assessments of the two schools aren’t yet complete, Anderson said.

“We’re very confident Gruening can be recovered,” he said. “We’re not positive about Eagle River Elementary at this stage.”

It can cost anywhere from $28 million to $35 million to build a new elementary school, he said.

The school district expects the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the State of Alaska to cover a majority of the district’s earthquake recovery costs, Anderson said. The district submitted an initial, projected cost estimate to the state on Tuesday: $25 million to $50 million, he said.

Aside from Gruening and Eagle River Elementary, the next three Anchorage-area schools with the most expensive earthquake-related repairs, replacements and clean ups are projected to be: Chugiak High School, Eagle River High School and Fire Lake Elementary School in Eagle River.

It’s projected to cost at least $1 million to return each of the three schools to their pre-earthquake condition, Anderson said.

The school district doesn’t have earthquake insurance, Anderson said. It does, however, have insurance that covers fire and water damage, including from sprinklers. The policy has a $100,000 deductible.

“Within our buildings we had lots of sprinkler systems collapse or break or go off,” Anderson said. “So all of that damage is covered by our insurance.”

The cost of that damage was also still being calculated by Tuesday.

“It will certainly be more than $2 million worth of water damage,” Anderson said.

The magnitude 7.0 earthquake that jolted the region at 8:29 a.m. on Nov. 30 damaged every single Anchorage public school to some degree, the district has said. The district closed schools the following week. Anderson said crews worked “crazy, crazy hours” to repair and clean the buildings. The thousands of aftershocks haven’t helped.

“Every time there’s a decent-sized aftershock, another pipe starts leaking or something happens,” Anderson said.

Anderson praised the work of teachers, staff, contractors and volunteers to ready the schools for students. Tens of thousands of Anchorage students returned to school on Monday. As classes resume, Anderson said, teachers, staff and students will likely find additional quake-related damage. Contractors and district employees may not have tried to flush every toilet or turn on every computer before schools reopened.

“You have to get through 92 buildings in seven days,” he said.

During the upcoming winter break, crews are expected to do a “deep dive” into the district’s buildings, including looking behind walls in schools with water damage, Anderson said.

“Christmas break really is that behind-the-scenes look at the next level of work,” he said.