This Aug. 21, 2020 photo shows the interior of Riverbend Elementary School, which suffered severe damage after two water pipes burst following extreme cold in Juneau. The Juneau School District announced Thursday the school would remain closed until at least next week. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)

This Aug. 21, 2020 photo shows the interior of Riverbend Elementary School, which suffered severe damage after two water pipes burst following extreme cold in Juneau. The Juneau School District announced Thursday the school would remain closed until at least next week. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)

Riverbend Elementary to remain closed due to water damage

Damage adds to long list of district maintenance needs

Juneau city schools reopened Thursday after three days of closure due to severe winter weather, but Riverbend Elementary School will remain closed until further notice according to the Juneau School District.

In an email Thursday, district chief of staff Kristin Bartlett said cleanup and repairs will take several weeks after two burst pipes flooded the school earlier this week.

“Tomorrow staff members will pack up classrooms to prepare for construction crews,” Bartlett said. “Flooring, carpet and drywall need to be removed and replaced in most of the school.”

Bartlett said the district is working on plans for alternative methods for instruction, including possible alternative locations. Plans for food service, materials and device distribution, student learning and after-school programs are being developed as quickly as possible, she said.

The school will be closed through at least Tuesday, Jan. 18, Bartlett said, noting that Monday is a school holiday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

One of the pipes that burst was over 1 inch in diameter, said Cassie Olin, JSD director of administrative services, and almost two-thirds of the building was flooded.

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Also Thursday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a disaster declaration for Southeast Alaska due to ongoing damage resulting from extreme weather. The Alaska National Guard was deployed to Yakutat to help with snow and ice removal after that city on Tuesday issued a local disaster emergency.

Budget considerations

The school closures came at the same time the Juneau Board of Education considers how much funding to request from the City and Borough of Juneau, including for the district’s long list of deferred maintenance projects. The city typically provides the district with $1 million each year for those projects, but the number and costs of projects continue to grow each year. The district’s buildings are valued at around $355 million, Olin said, and best practices recommend spending 2-3% of that total value on annual maintenance.

The burst pipes at Riverbend were not on the district’s list of deferred maintenance projects, Olin said, but were impacted by recent weather.

Board members estimate how much money to request from the city Assembly based on projections made in the fall, said Juneau School Board President Elizabeth Siddon in an interview with the Empire, but that request is made before official student numbers are in.

This year, the district found itself with 146 fewer students than projected leading to a decrease in state funding. The district will receive just under $600,000 less in state funding than last year, according to meeting documents.

The decrease in enrollment also means less money from the city —in this case, $35,750 —which board members are considering asking the Assembly to still spend in the district. The city Assembly typically funds the district to the maximum amount allowed under law, Olin said, meaning that if the city Assembly agrees to spend that money on schools, the funds couldn’t be used for the district’s operating budget. The amount of money the city can spend is tied to state spending on students, known as the Base Student Allocation.

However, that money can still be spent on services related to schools, such as food, transportation and the RALLY program, Olin said. The board will vote on whether or not to make that request of the city Assembly at their Feb. 8, meeting.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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