To address a $68 million deficit resulting from the lack of state education funding, last month the Anchorage School District proposed closing six elementary schools. Since these school closures — most in low-income neighborhoods — would save only $3.5 million to $4 million, ASD also may cut sports, gifted programs, and other critical student programs and activities, and increase the student to teacher ratio districtwide.
Despite its dire financial situation, ASD’s proposed capital improvement program, or CIP, for 2022-2027 includes nearly $38 million for a rebuild of downtown’s Inlet View Elementary School, located in a comparatively well-off neighborhood. This proposed rebuild is the most expensive capital project on the CIP list even though Inlet View has the seventh smallest enrollment of the district’s 58 elementary schools, as of November 2022. The Anchorage School Board plans to vote on the CIP projects on Dec. 5.
ASD cannot justify such a costly expenditure on Inlet View when a remodel likely would cost $10 million to $15 million less, similar to what has been done for Turnagain Elementary and what likely will be done for Lake Otis Elementary. Though many Inlet View neighbors opposed to the proposed rebuild have testified at numerous Anchorage School Board meetings and at least board member Dave Donley supports a remodel, to date that option has not been discussed by the board and it needs to be.
Yes, Inlet View would have fewer years of longevity with a remodel, but its lower cost is what ASD can afford at this time. A remodel would extend the school’s lifespan by decades.
Inlet View is a beloved neighborhood school. It currently is located on the north side of its site to take advantage of sunlight within the school and throughout the playground. Remodeling and renovating the school at its current location would not only save money, but would also be a better decision for our community.
While the Urban Design Commission approved a proposed rebuild of the school, the commissioners expressed serious concerns with the proposal, including inadequate northern design features.
Unfortunately, ASD committed to its expensive Inlet View rebuild plan before community members without children or grandchildren attending the school were asked to provide input, beginning in September 2021. Since then, more than 160 residents of Anchorage, most from South Addition, have urged ASD in two letters to reconsider its proposal. Inexplicably, our concerns were ignored and our letters remain unanswered.
We are neighbors of Inlet View who support education, not just for our neighborhood’s students but for the entire Anchorage community. For many of us, it was painful to vote no on last spring’s failed school bond, but we did so because ASD and its architect, NVision, have been dismissive of our concerns. Inlet View was the most commonly cited project among those who voted against the bond.
Now that federal and state elections are over, we hope to bring our neighborhood together with this remodel proposal to ensure that Inlet View remains an excellent school. With the savings from an Inlet View remodel rather than a rebuild, ASD would have more than enough money to keep open at least some of ASD’s closing schools and would be able to fund critical student programs and activities. We urge the Anchorage School Board to amend its draft CIP to include remodeling, rather than rebuilding, Inlet View.
John Bernitz is an attorney; Mitch Cullom is a professional pilot and parent of a future Inlet View student; Lois Epstein is an engineer; Deborah Hansen is a former tourism professional; Martin Hansen retired from the National Park Service and is a kindergarten teacher’s aide for ASD; Elise Huggins is a landscape architect; David McCarthy is a businessman and parent of a future Inlet View student; and Sharon Meacham is a former ASD principal for multiple schools. All live within walking distance of Inlet View.
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