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‘Full speed ahead': Crews work through winter break to repair quake-damaged Anchorage schools, but they’re far from done

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: January 7
  • Published January 5

Daniel Unfreid, with Cornerstone General Contractors, works on a seismic repair and upgrade to the East High pool ceiling on Friday. The school was damaged during the Nov. 30 earthquake. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Replacing carpets, repairing walls and fixing cracked floors. That’s just some of the earthquake-related work completed at Anchorage schools over the two-week winter break.

Students will return to classes on Monday, but there are still months of repairs ahead, said Keri Shivers, project manager for major maintenance at the Anchorage School District. Damage from the magnitude-7.0 earthquake on Nov. 30 touched every one of the district’s dozens of buildings to some degree. Two schools in Eagle River were closed for the school year.

“We’re working around-the-clock, through the weekends and taking advantage of every opportunity we have to get in there before students get in there,” Shivers said about the winter-break work. “It’s full speed ahead.”

Since the quake hit, school district staff have completed 1,600 work orders for repairs and cleanups from cracked windows to fallen ceilings tiles, Shivers said. Hired contractors, meanwhile, have worked on larger-scale projects such as repairing soffits at Dimond High School.

The soffit work is one of the the more major projects tackled over winter break, Shivers said. Cleaning up Tyson Elementary School’s library was also a big undertaking, she said. Crews replaced portions of the walls, shelving and carpets due to water damage from broken sprinklers.

At East High School, crews worked on areas including a weight room and auxiliary gym so the spaces could be reopened to students on Monday. The school auditorium won’t reopen until Wednesday. Seating is being brought back in after crews cleaned up flooding, Shivers said.

“Sprinkler heads were broken,” she said. “It was literally raining in there.”

Cornerstone General Contractors foreman Matt Schmidt gives a tour of the East High auditorium on Friday. The auditorium was damaged in the Nov. 30 earthquake but repairs are nearly finished. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
The East High auditorium on Friday. During the Nov. 30 earthquake, acoustical panels on the ceiling came loose and the sprinkler system broke, causing a small flood in part of the room. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Repairs are underway to a load-bearing wall that was damaged during the Nov. 30 earthquake at East High on Friday. Some of the concrete blocks were hollow, and are being filled with grout to make them stronger. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Adam Breitinger, left, and Justin Pedersen, with Roger Hickel Contracting, pour grout into a hollow wall to reinforce it on Friday at East High. The work had been planned before the Nov. 30 earthquake, and will make the structure stronger. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Nearly all other sections of Anchorage schools should be reopened to students by Monday with the exception of a bathroom at King Tech High School, a classroom at Service High School and two common areas at Bartlett High School, Shivers said.

Gruening Middle School in Eagle River will not reopen for the rest of the school year, and neither will Eagle River Elementary School, the district has previously announced. District officials have yet to decide whether the elementary school needs to be completely rebuilt.

The district doesn’t yet have firm cost estimates for all of the repairs needed to bring the schools back to their pre-earthquake conditions, said Jim Anderson, district chief financial officer.

It’s estimated that the work completed through Sunday could cost roughly $22.6 million, but the district is still waiting on engineering assessments for about a dozen schools that took the biggest hits, Anderson said. Eagle River Elementary and Gruening top the list. The others include East High, Whaley School, Chugiak Elementary School, Dimond High, Eagle River High School and Bear Valley Elementary School, he said.

Daniel Unfreid, left, and Chris Ide, both with Cornerstone General Contractors, work on a seismic repair and upgrade to the East High pool ceiling on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. The school was damaged during the Nov. 30 earthquake. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Shivers said crews will continue repair work in the evenings for the rest of the school year. They’ll focus on cosmetic fixes such as painting, filling cracks and repairing floors. The work is expected to spill into the summer.

“We’re doing as much as we possibly can and we’re going to continue to do this over the next year,” Shivers said. “It’s just going to take a little bit of time.”

Repair work also continued over winter break at the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District.

Thirteen portable classrooms were brought to Houston High School and hooked up to heat and water to accommodate students from Houston Middle School. The middle school will remain closed for the rest of this school year and the next one due to earthquake damage, according to Monica Goyette, district superintendent.

“That was the primary change over Christmas,” she said about the portables.

Goyette said she wouldn’t have total cost estimates for repair work for another two to three weeks.

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