Education

Ursa Major Elementary on JBER expected to stay closed at least a year amid earthquake concerns

fort richardson, jber, joint base elmendorf richardson, military

It will be at least a year before students and staff return to classes at Ursa Major Elementary School on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson as the Anchorage School District works to resolve recently identified seismic safety issues, a district official said Tuesday.

Rob Holland, acting chief operating officer at ASD, said the district didn’t yet know the entire repair timeline. However, district officials aren’t planning to disrupt families in the middle of the school year, which means Ursa Major will be closed for at least a year — but perhaps longer, he said.

“We don’t have plans to try to toggle families back and forth in and out of the school,” Holland said.

Ursa Major, which has an enrollment of 397, is one of the oldest schools in the district: The two-story building was constructed in 1952 and is one of four elementary schools on base. While the school sustained limited damage after major earthquakes in 1964 and 2018, a more detailed analysis determined there’s an increased risk of the building fully or partially collapsing during a major earthquake, Holland said.

“Upon hearing that information, we do not make an attempt to second-guess. We simply err to the side of caution,” Holland said. “And that’s what led to the determination the same day, that we should hold plans to return to school in that building.”

The district learned of the issues last Thursday, Holland said, after a deeper seismic analysis conducted by an engineering firm. All district schools built before the year 2000 underwent a seismic analysis after the 7.1 earthquake in 2018 while newer school buildings were exempt.

The full report for Ursa Major Elementary is expected early next week, and Holland said the district will receive estimates on the scope and cost of the repair work. The structural issues weren’t caused by the 2018 earthquake but rather are the result of 70 years’ worth of wear on the buildings, he said.

Holland said the district is deep into plans for the students and staff who had been preparing to start the school year at Ursa Major.

Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt wrote in a letter to staff and families that the project “will be a large logistical puzzle.”


Morgan Krakow

Morgan Krakow is a general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She is a 2019 graduate of the University of Oregon and spent the summer of 2019 as a reporting intern on the general assignment desk of The Washington Post. Contact her at mkrakow@adn.com.

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