The Anchorage School District is facing extensive repair costs after November's earthquake caused damage across the city, and the ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government may now be a factor in how it covers them.

On Monday the district announced that Gruening Middle and Eagle River Elementary schools in Eagle River would remain closed due to structural damage from the 7.0 quake on Nov. 30, not only for the remainder of this school year but the 2019-2020 school year as well. 

"Those two schools were some of the hardest-hit by the November earthquake," said ASD Chief Operating Officer Tom Roth.

In order to make the buildings usable again, the district will need to bring in contractors, design a series of repairs and then perform them.

"Gruening looked a lot different after the first assessment," said ASD Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop. "However, after subsequent earthquakes it was determined that it was not a safe environment."

"To be sure, it's going to take at least one year," Roth said. "With that information, Dr. Bishop was able to notify the staff of the affected schools and the families."

The short-term plan is to have Gruening's roughly 600 students continue to attend school in space set aside at Chugiak High School.

If the Chugiak plan hadn't worked, Gruening students would have been sent separated to Mirror Lake, Clark and Begich middle schools, tearing apart the school's student body -- a reality already faced by Eagle River Elementary students.

"Presently we have those students in three different schools," Bishop said. "Our determination to keep students with teachers was a good one after the quake. It helped with student-teacher relationships; they were the best support possible for the students coming back from the event."

The short-term plan for Eagle River's students and their families is a little different.

"We kept those kids with their teachers but that dynamic changes after the summer," Roth said. "We recognize that we have some families with young kids going to different schools and that may be a burden on them. If a family wants all of their children to go to Homestead (Elementary School) for instance, they should be allowed to do that."

"Any decision as we move forward, the community will be involved with it," said Anchorage School Board President Starr Marsett.

Normally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be involved in repairing the buildings after a large-scale disaster, but its staff remain unavailable due to the border-security dispute between President Trump and Democratic leaders in Congress.

"Now FEMA as a federal agency is closed down, due to the partial government shutdown," Roth said. "Once we see the end of the shutdown, President Trump is likely to announce that (federal disaster) declaration and it will enable us to file claims against the federal government for reimbursement of cost."

The district's hope is that FEMA will cover up to 75 percent of ASD's costs and the state will cost the remaining 25 percent.

"It's very early," Roth said. "We haven't had any discussions or negotiations on projects. There are a lot of decisions ahead on what to do with these buildings."

If the estimated cost to repair a building reaches a 50 percent threshold of the replacement cost, the federal government would allow for a full replacement of that building.

"It's just not cost-effective to repair a building with that kind of damage," Roth said. "In the meantime, hopefully the state will provide us with some up-front money to design and initiate some of the construction."

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