Mat-Su district waits for funding answers to Houston Middle School earthquake damage
The halls and classrooms of Houston Middle School are frozen in time nearly one year after a magnitude 7.1 earthquake caused extensive damage to the building.
Sneakers line a shelf in the gym and a teacher’s chalkboard reads, "Good Things! 11/30/18."
On Friday, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District’s planning and construction manager Tony Weese showed the destruction to several borough Assembly members.
“The sprinkler lines shook so much they blew themselves through the wood ceiling,” Weese said while standing in the library where hundreds of books are strewn about the floor.
The only work construction crews have done is the bare minimum to keep the building standing.
“[The engineers] noticed this was starting to get stressed — the steel and brick, which means the beam was starting to pull the roof down. We had to add the scaffolding to keep the roof structure up,” Weese explained.
Houston Middle was built out of concrete masonry unit blocks more than 30 years ago. The material choice was one of the many reasons the design failed during the large earthquake.
“The methods of construction, how it was designed for the time and obviously the wall structure — those were some of the contributing factors,” Weese said.
Getting the building back up to code will be a multimillion-dollar effort. District superintendent Monica Goyette said the school board supports a plan to repair the administrative wing and the gym and tear down and replace the two-story classroom area.
“There’s a loss of confidence when you walk through here and you see the roof separated from the walls and the I-beams scaffold support that’s had to be put in place just for it to be safe to come in and assess the damage,” Goyette said.
That option comes with an estimated price tag of about $29 million. Goyette said the district is finalizing figures with its insurance company, but expects to get around $15 million.
She said the district could also get several million dollars of borough money from leftover interest on bonds but that still leaves a large balance.
“We are going to need approximately $7 million to complete the project and we still have state funding to be determined and then federal funding through [the Federal Emergency Management Agency],” Goyette said.
The district is still waiting for the Assembly to approve its resolution to retrofit the building.
Goyette’s anxious to get the design process started before the end of the year.
“A year of students’ education has gone by and we really want to be able to return this building back to the community so students can occupy it again,” Goyette said.
The district has a webpage devoted to information about the Houston Middle School retrofit. An estimated timeline of the project puts construction beginning in late summer 2020.
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