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School district weighs options following major hikes to bond project costs

Riley Board
A rebuild of Soldotna Elementary School is the largest capital project funded by the bond.

In an update Monday, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District officials said rising costs have caused complications for its school building maintenance projects meant to be funded by a bond.

Last year, borough voters passed a $65 million bond for deferred school maintenance. Now, the borough and district are dealing with the fact that costs now far exceed the bond amount, and not every project promised in the bond will be possible.

At the heart of the issue is the Soldotna Elementary School rebuild project, which shot from about $20 million in a pre-bond estimate, to $35 million last month.

“Soldotna El was originally less than 30% of that project,” Borough Mayor Peter Micciche said during Monday’s work session. “Now it’s more than half.”

He said he’ll be looking to the state and federal government for money to supplement what the bond can no longer cover. Borough Contracting Director John Hedges said the Soldotna Elementary cost increase is pushing up against the planning and timing for other bond projects.

“From a planning and strategy perspective, we can’t responsibly move forward with that large of a project without understanding how that higher cost is going to impact all these other cascading projects,” he said.

Hedges said the district is approaching smaller bond-funded projects, like roof fixes, slowly and with the hope of winning some outside funding to offset the increased costs.

The Board of Education and borough officials also discussed the legal and ethical ramifications of changing the bond projects, which almost 60% of voters supported last October. Micciche said the borough is still figuring out whether it can legally scale back the promises of the bond.

“Hopefully we’ll secure some funding that will make it a moot point going forward. If not, we’re going to have some really tough conversations,” he said.

Those tough conversations, Micciche said, could involve another vote, or revisiting certain, less-critical components of the bond, like moving the district administration building. Those offices were to be moved from the borough building to the vacant Soldotna Prep building, per the bond.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.