KETCHIKAN — Annette Island School District has received $14.5 million from the state to renovate Richard Johnson Elementary School.
The school was originally built in the 1960s, with major renovations and additions in the 1980s and a roof project in the 1990s, said Superintendent Eugene Avey. In addition to the building showing its wear and tear, the heating and cooling system had not been functioning properly for the past few years, Avey said.
To accommodate the major renovation, the students at Leask Middle School are sharing space with the students attending Metlakatla High School in the high school. The more than 140 students who attend the elementary school are using the middle school building and a few outlying buildings, Avey said.
“It is a challenge because of the space,” Avey said. “We’re using every square inch. We’re using a lot of smaller spaces to put classes into.”
Elementary school principal, Bart Mwarey, said the space in the middle school is less than in the elementary school, but day-to-day operations are not being disrupted.
“The teachers have been really good in making accommodations in pushing to two buildings,” Mwarey said. “It doesn’t seem to be bothering them. They’re holding classes every day, and teaching and learning is going on.”
The school’s major overhaul includes a new roof, metal siding and interior work, such as a kitchen renovation and outfitting the buildings for technology and wireless Internet connections.
Avey said that upon inspection of the building, they discovered “significant” rot, deterioration and mold, as well as leaks and mechanical deficiencies. When they got into the project, they found issues they were initially not aware of.
“We are finding more things that need to be replaced,” Avey said. “There are interior and mechanical things that are just worn out. We are finding more than we projected.”
Even with the inconvenience of moving the classrooms to different buildings for the 2013-14 school year, morale is high among administrators and faculty.
“We’ve had good teacher involvement, building administrator involvement and community involvement. We’ve had a relatively smooth start with all the system changes going on,” Avey said. “The staff and the community have been strong supporters, and they see the need, and they’re very excited about this.
“We’re updating everything and making it look very attractive. Just like in Ketchikan schools and their renovations, we are trying to do the same thing and modernize the buildings so they will be available for the next 30-40 years,” Avey said.
The district has completed major building renovations before, Avey said, so a project of this scope is not unfamiliar.
The district is a Regional Educational Attendance Area, meaning an educational area set up in an unorganized borough of the state. These areas do not have local financial support because they do not have a tax base. State funding is essential for major construction projects and upgrades.
“By having the state for these major renovations it allows us to put together a very high quality building that will diminish our need to spend our budget on maintenance,” Avey said. “Fortunately, the Legislature has seen our need and been able to support these major renovations with our REAA districts. Otherwise, I don’t know when it would be done.”
Avey said moving the students out of the buildings for the renovation is the most efficient way to complete the construction, as well as create the least amount of disruption to educational programs.
“What (we are) doing is giving an environment for a good work environment to keep your staff here longer and to give them the best facilities for conducting the best learning,” he said. “We’ll be as good as anywhere once the major remodel is complete. It may not look glamorous because it’s not a new building, but we think it’ll definitely meet the needs.”
While the process is going smoothly and with much community support, Avey is looking forward to starting the 2014-15 school year in the renovated building.
“We needed this done a couple years ago, so we have fast tracked this. We project, that if everything goes well and we don’t find any more things that would delay the construction process, we figure we’ll be done about the middle of May.”