HOUSTON — The 338 Houston Middle School students who hurriedly evacuated during the Magnitude 7.1 earthquake in November of 2018 never got to reenter their school as middle schoolers, but will have the opportunity to attend high school in the same location as the old middle school building once a new building that will become Houston High School is constructed on the same spot. On Thursday, a groundbreaking ceremony will take place at Houston at 11 a.m.
Houston Middle School was built in 1985 and demolished last winter, after it was condemned by the Mat-Su Borough Assembly following the quake in 2018. Among a myriad of structural problems that occurred to HMS during the 2018 quake, concrete masonry units stacked in-line rather than in a staggered pattern failed and pieces of cement came off of the walls. Houston Middle School students have spent the last five semesters at one school building as Houston Jr. Sr. High School with the addition of 15 portable classrooms around the outside of the building that was formerly Houston High School. The old Houston High School building will become the new Houston Middle School once the construction of the new building is complete.
“I think we did a really great job, I think the borough did a great job, the school district did a great job, our staff, but at the end of the day it is still not ideal even though you have teachers on the same staff, but you have half of them in portables. You’re not able to make those same connections,” said HJSH Principal Ben Howard. “It’s really easy to feel isolated when you’re just by yourself all the time.”
Last month, the Assembly approved Action Memorandum 21-048 that provides a contract to Roger Hickel Contracting for $33,270,169 to build the new HMS. The new building will not only include academic, administrative, and gymnasium wings, but also a technical career space in the 93,000 square feet. The Mat-Su Borough School Board had funded an additional $5.9 million to close the gap and allow for the contract to be put out to bid in May, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency alerted the Borough last month that a favorable ruling was made in the case of HMS. Construction is expected to be finished next year in time for students to begin taking classes at the new HHS building for the fall semester of 2022.