Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 4:32 PM on Wednesday, February 15, 2012

School construction spending gets boost

By Jonathan Grass
Morris News Service - alaska

Construction spending for the schools gets another boost this year, and there are several projects to account for it. The Associated General Contractors of Alaska and Institute of Social and Economic Research forecast that education-related construction spending will get a 15 percent boost over last year to the tune of $408 million.

AGC's forecast states the increase comes from a $397 million state bond package passed in 2010 in addition to more local school district spending.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District wins a large prize at the local level with a five-year $214 million bond package and no shortage of projects to put it toward.

Six new construction projects will go forward for the district. Most notably, there will be new school building construction with additional work on athletic field improvements, heating and ventilation work, generator replacements, bathrooms, signage and various other infrastructure needs.

The Mat-Su district's biggest project will be building its first middle and high school combination at the Knik-Goose Bay Road area.

The investments are subject to up to 70 percent of debt service reimbursement by the state.

The Anchorage School District will place a $59 million bond proposition on the municipality's April ballot with an anticipated 60 percent to 70 percent debt reimbursement for most projects. If passed, work will begin this year.

Among other things, the bond includes $23.8 million for career and technical education improvements with slightly more than half going toward a new structure for West High School.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District also has quite a few projects this year that come from previous bonds and legislative action. Projects throughout eight schools will cover about $17.3 million, according to Assistant Superintendent Dave Ferree, who said this amount is up a little bit from the past couple of years.

Building won't be limited to K-12. The University of Alaska Anchorage will be doing hefty additions. The Seawolves will be getting a new 196,000-square-foot sports arena. It's estimated to cost $82 million and to be completed in 2014. The school of engineering will get a new 72,000-square-foot building for $55 million while the old one is renovated for $11.5 million. A 500-car parking structure is included in the project for an additional $17 million. The whole thing could be completed by 2015.

Lastly for UAA, a new Mat-Su Valley performing arts center should start this year and be completed in 2014 for $15 million. The 35,000-square-foot structure will house a 500-seat theater and classrooms.

AGC reports that education spending's biggest leap was between 2005 and 2006, which had a 107 percent increase due to expansive state grants and local bonds that virtually guaranteed reimbursement by the state for certain percentage of the repayments.

The pattern leveled out more until 2008, which saw a 20 percent drop due to lower state spending on the K-12 level and less university spending. The forecast has gradually gone up since.