Borough assembly approves contract for new school fire alarms

The borough assembly unanimously approved a $574,000 contract with Sitka Electric to install new fire alarm systems at the middle and high schools. The majority of the project will be funded through state Community Development Block Grants, though the borough may contribute up to $180,750 in local funds.

Though the fire alarm system meets the code that was in place when it was installed in the 1980s, it needs to be updated to meet current standards, explained borough Capital Facilities Director Amber Al-Haddad. The system has become difficult to repair, since some of its parts are now obsolete.

The schools’ fire alarms are also not connected to a digital communicator and not monitored as regularly as a digital system would be, according to a borough report. The system updates will allow for quicker emergency response times, with additional smoke and heat detection capabilities, more frequent monitoring and horn and strobe alarms to warn students and staff of danger.

Once the new system is installed, the schools will be up to code as a potential sleeping quarters in case Wrangell hosts visiting schools for sports or debate tournaments.

“Codes change,” said Al-Haddad. “We learn more about how to protect ourselves … as additional technologies come out.”

The total project funding is $613,484. Al-Haddad attributes the substantial price tag to supply chain issues and the rising cost of materials throughout the nation. Essential elements of the project like electrical wiring and electrical conduit have undergone particularly steep price hikes. “The price tag of all projects is really hitting us with some sticker shock these days,” she said.

The assembly approved the contract on Oct. 11.

Before work can begin on the project, Sitka Electric must renew its federally issued entity identification number. Last spring, the U.S. government changed the system that it uses to identify the organizations it does business with, and as the system has rolled out, many companies have experienced significant delays receiving their new IDs. Wait times vary from company to company. “It’s hit or miss,” said Al-Haddad. “We’re seeing anything from a week to five months.”

Sitka Electric submitted its renewal paperwork in May and is still awaiting approval.

To complete the project during the summer of 2023, Al-Haddad hopes that Sitka Electric will receive its federal ID and sign a contract with the borough “within the next month.” She does not anticipate any problems with the company’s ID renewal.

In the unlikely event that Sitka Electric does not get approved, the project will go to the next lowest bidder. Since the next lowest price is outside the project budget, the borough would either “find additional outside funds, ask the borough assembly to commit additional local funds, or a combination of both.”


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