Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Anchorage School Board Approves Proposed $57,285,000 Bond For April 2014 Municipal Election, Headlined By Proposed Airport Heights School Renovation.

The Anchorage School District will be putting their hands out for $57,285,000 on April 1st, 2014. This represents the total agreed upon by the Anchorage School Board at the regular board meeting on October 21st, 2013. Assuming 60-70 percent debt reimbursement from the state, passage of this bond would add $4.88 per $100,000 of assessed valuation to property taxes, although the district notes that this will be offset by the retirement of $57.34 million of debt this year, which will result in a net reduction of the overall debt service.

Pertinent source documents:

-- ASD Memorandum 47: Approval of FY 2013-2014 Bond Proposal (18 pages). An overview of the entire bond package.

-- ASD Memorandum 65: Approval of Airport Heights Elementary School Master Plan (281 pages). A detailed look at the Airport Heights school proposal.

Topping the list of projects is the proposed rehabilitation of Airport Heights Elementary School, which is still serviceable but is reaching the end of its useful service life when remodeling costs exceed replacement costs. The school, which was first built in 1954 and has only received cosmetic upgrades in 1972 and 1987, has a long list of issues, including asbestos removal, heating and plumbing concerns, a lack of space to teach and neighborhood traffic problems. According to the 281-page ASD Memorandum 65, the district presented five options to the school board:

-- Manage to future obsolescence/closure – Affects between 5-8 elementary school boundaries to house displaced students, and will affect middle school boundaries due to 6-8 (Central & Wendler) versus 7-8 instruction (Clark).

-- Building Life Extension – Estimated project cost $8.4 million: Improves facility for 5-10 years continued service and address critical code and safety concerns. This option does not address any program deficiencies. After completion of this option, the building’s FCI (Facility Condition Index - higher numbers are worse) is anticipated to be .15, and it’s EAI (Educational Adequacy Index - higher numbers are worse) will remain at 24.08.

-- Intermediate Project – Estimated Project Cost $15.9 million: Provides building life extension, adds an MPR and instructional space for programs housed in the 3 onsite relocatable classrooms and improves security at school entry by reorganizing the Administration area and library, but does not increase space for program deficiencies. After completion of this option, the building’s FCI is anticipated to be .14 and it’s EAI at 4.49.

-- Renewal Project – Estimated Project Cost $24.5 million: The existing building is improved to serve for the next 40 years and addresses program delivery requirements, security, and community use identified in the proposed Supplemental Educational Specifications. With this option, the FCI is anticipated to be .08 and EAI at 3.5.

-- Replacement Project – Estimated Project Cost $29.3 million: The existing school would be demolished and a new building built. With this option, the FCI and EAI is anticipated to be zero.

ASD Administration preferred the fourth option -- the Renewal Project -- and the school board concurred, but decided to knock $1.2 million off the price, dropping the cost to $23.3 million. The basic package will be unchanged, but the board proposed diverting the extra $1.2 million towards upgrading the HVAC system at Chugiak High School.

The following projects constitute the remainder of the bond; ASD Memorandum 47 presents a short list:

-- Capital Renewal Planning & Design Projects $5,950,000
-- Capital Improvement Component Renewal Projects (BLE) $27,335,000

The Anchorage Assembly will get to weigh in on the bond during one of their December meetings. This will provide an opportunity for the public to sound off either in favor or in opposition. If approved, it will be one of the propositions listed on the ballot for the April 1st, 2014 Municipal Election.

Opposition: Two-time school board candidate Bob Griffin has some misgivings about this bond. He says that ASD has made a common practice of paying some day-to-day operating expenses with long-term bond debt, noting for example that ASD employee salaries/benefits, advertising, utilities and short-term capital expenses have been rolled into bond issues on the ballot. He compares this to being similar to a person obtaining a 20-year mortgage for a home and using that mortgage to pay for the yard man, full-time maintenance person, janitor and utility bills. Griffin also makes a case that ASD construction costs seem exceptionally high for Anchorage. The latter should be no surprise since Alaska is not a right-to-work state and most labor on school projects is union.

Assessment: The Renewal Project appears to be the most cost-effective of the five alternatives for Airport Heights Elementary School. Since this school is my designated polling station, I can personally attest to the fact that although they try to maintain the school to optimum standards, the school itself is clearly getting long in the tooth. In addition, it can be difficult to find parking around the school on election day. Factoring in the amount of debt being retired, I am favorably disposed towards this bond.

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