School board officials and Anchorage Assembly debate rebuilding earthquake-damaged schools in Eagle River
Gruening Middle School was damaged by the Nov. 30 earthquake and subsequently closed for the rest of the school year. The Anchorage School Board and Anchorage Assembly are questioning whether rebuilding is the best option for the school.
At a joint meeting, they raised questions about the school’s foundation and the soil it sits on.
"I think today's information with the district about the more in-depth studies that they're doing will help answer some of those questions and maybe allay some of those fears," assembly member Crystal Kennedy said. "But it really does depend on the kind of information we get. At this point, we're kind of waiting to see what those answers are."
Some other concerns, Kennedy says, are any further engineering problems that may not have been previously known.
How the district was able to bring displaced students from Eagle River Elementary and Gruening into other local schools has some people thinking a rebuild may not be the best option, citing low enrollment numbers do not justify rebuilding large schools.
Plans and designs to rebuild both Eagle River Elementary and Gruening Middle School are already in the works. The Anchorage School District also sees both facilities as future assets.
Tom Roth, Chief Operating Officer for ASD, says projected population growth for the area proves a need to rebuild.
"The long-range planners, bottom line, will pine that Eagle River and Chugiak will need two middle schools, and two high schools," he said. "So, I think that is really what is driving the intent to retain Gruening."
The work to Eagle River Elementary includes new roofs and seismic upgrades. Roth said those upgrades will take a minimum of 24 months, opening the school starting in the 2021-2022 school year.
However, when Gruening Middle School will reopen comes down to the soil findings.
George Vakalis, a consultant with ASD, says a representative from FEMA has already inspected the soil.
Vakalis also said that records show the ground under Gruening was prepared properly before the school was erected on it. However, failure on a staircase and exterior wall require more investigating, he said.
"As a result of that, part of this evaluation that's being done, there has been a contractor that has been hired to come on board and do a detailed analysis,” he said.
According to Anchorage School Board President Starr Marsett, the results from the soil and foundation samples should be available later this summer.
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