Fairbanks voters to decide fate of school bonds

FAIRBANKS — Money to pay for a new middle school and other projects will be up for consideration when Fairbanks North Star Borough voters go to the polls Tuesday.

About two-thirds of the bond money, $37.5 million, would be designated for the local share of a replacement for Ryan Middle School, which engineers have said is susceptible to serious damage from a moderate earthquake. The state would pay 60 percent of the costs of a new middle school plus another $880,000, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Voters also would be asked to approve $19.3 million in bonds for major maintenance at other schools. The state would pay 70 percent of maintenance costs and the bonds would cover the other 30 percent.

Major problems were revealed at Ryan Middle School by an assessment from a structural engineer. The assessment was required for planned minor renovations.

“(The engineer) came back and said, ‘We’ve got problems nobody knew about,’” district projects manager Larry Morris said.

A moderate earthquake, the engineer concluded, would allow occupants to leave the building safely but would render the structure uninhabitable, Morris said.

The engineer did not speculate on what would happen to the building if a major earthquake shook Fairbanks.

“They’re not going to go out on a limb and say this is what will happen if we have this big of earthquake,” he said. “It’s based on design parameters and code.”

The district added reinforcing beams to load-bearing walls in 2011.

The middle school project has not garnered as much support as it deserves because the deficiencies are not immediately obvious, said Dave Ferree, the former district maintenance director.

“It’s tough,” Ferree said. “When you walk into the building, the things we’re talking about are behind walls. They’re not in your face.”

Ferree and former school board member Leslie Hadjukovich started the “Yes on School Bonds Committee.” The group raised around $16,000 in the last month to help spread information on the bond measures.

The borough estimates the bonds will add $20.79 in property tax for every $100,000 owned.

Another $20 can make a big impact on some people’s budgets, Hadjukovich said, but schools are vital.

“Every piece of our community is important, including private schools and home-schooling or however you choose to educate your kids, but public education is a cornerstone of our community,” she said. “It’s big and we have to support it.”

The Interior Taxpayers Association membership endorsed a “no” vote on both bonds.

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