School district will spend up to $385,900 for building condition surveys

With voter approval of a $3.5 million bond issue, the Wrangell School District wasted no time in moving ahead with its plan to go after a state grant as it works to fully fund needed repairs at its buildings.

But before the district starts any work, it first must determine exactly what needs fixing so it can set priorities and assemble cost estimates. To that end, the school board voted Oct. 11 to appropriate up to $385,900 from the district’s major maintenance fund to pay for condition surveys of all three buildings.

The fund has a current balance of about $1 million.

Those surveys will identify problems like wood rot or roofs in need of repair and could help the district secure a $6.5 million state grant from the Department of Education. That process is highly competitive among school districts statewide, and the more information Wrangell provides in its application, the better its chances.

The community on Oct. 4 voted in favor of borrowing $3.5 million “for school maintenance and renovation,” said Tammy Stromberg, business manager for the school district. “With that money, we are going to attempt to leverage as much state money as possible; $6.5 million is what we’re hoping to get” through the statewide major maintenance program. “This is a very competitive program.”

Stromberg said the state grant requires a local match of 35% — which the $3.5 million will cover — and the application must be as detailed as possible, listing every maintenance issue the district is facing. In order to do that, she said, condition surveys are required.

“All the top-scoring projects in the state — and we’re talking about everyone in the state, we’ve got Anchorage, Fairbanks, Galena, Chevak, Juneau — everyone is competing for the same piece of money,” Stromberg said.

The amount of money available is set every year by the Legislature, subject to the governor’s veto or approval. Gov. Mike Dunleavy this year vetoed about two-thirds of the legislative appropriation.

Condition surveys look at architecture, civil engineering, structural, mechanical and electrical issues, Stromberg said, adding that the state uses the information in those surveys to score the grant applications.

“We won’t score well in the process without condition surveys,” she said. “Condition surveys can also identify the maintenance priorities going forward for several years and can be used for other grants along the way. I believe they’re good for six years for that purpose.”

Stromberg arrived at the $385,900 cost based on condition surveys conducted in other communities this summer. “It might be a little low, it might be a little high, but I believe we’re in the ballpark.”

The last time a condition survey was done was 24 years ago, said Josh Blatchley, school district maintenance director.

“We had a condition survey done in 1998 and based on that survey, we were able to get two (state) grants — one in 2003 and one in 2006,” he said. “It also points out the deficiencies in the school.”

A six-year plan approved by the board back in May was based on items that Blatchley deemed necessary to fix, but the list isn’t as comprehensive as a condition survey.

“I am not an expert. There may be things in the structure of the building or deficiencies I am not aware of,” he said. “Just the expertise that the engineers and designers would bring to the condition survey would be information for us. On the chance that we don’t get a (state) grant, at least we know what is the most important aspect of the buildings we need to focus on,” Blatchley said.

“I think it’s important we do what we can to maximize leverage,” Stromberg said. “This is not a guarantee but it’s our best shot.”


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