PALMER — The Mat-Su Borough Assembly took the most definitive action on reopening Houston Middle School since the building evacuated students during the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that struck in November of 2018. On Tuesday, the Assembly voted 6-1 to condemn Houston Middle School as a fire and health hazard.
“It is in the best interest, the safety, the health of everyone surrounding HMS, be it inside the school as students faculty or parents or even the construction workers to start from ground zero on this building and that is condemning,” said Capital Projects Director Jude Bilafer.
In August of 2019, the Mat-Su Borough School District School Board passed a resolution supporting a repair of the administrative wing and gymnasium and a complete demolition and replacement of the academic wing. In January, the Assembly awarded a contract for destructive analysis of the ruins of Houston Middle School and to conduct a thorough investigation.
“We found significantly more damage than anyone anticipated,” said Bilafer. “It was determined by all the parties involved that our best course of action because we saw costs rapidly increasing and also the fact that we did not know all the things that were in those walls, were in the roof, were in the footings. It was a change order ripe environment, that’s why we are coming to you today recommending condemnation of the building. By condemning that building we start with a clean slate.”
Bilafer said that a team of assessors from the primary insurance company, structural analysis firm, school district and borough personnel conducted destructive analysis on the building prior to the July cost estimate. Bilafer said that analysis of the site had been done after being asked by Assemblyman Jesse Sumner.
“We are being told that that current site where the school is is stable and conducive to rebuilding right on that site,” said Bilafer.
Ordnance 20-089 to condemn HMS as a fire and health hazard passed with only Assemblyman George McKee voting in opposition. Ordinance 20-087 also passed without opposition, accepting $5.9 from the school district to bring the project fund total up to $25.9 million. At the end of July, a professional cost estimator determined the price of the project at $34.9 million to repair the administrative wing and gymnasium and replace the academic wing, but Bilafer said that the estimator had mentioned an immediate decrease of $2 million if the administrative wing was demolished. The borough is still waiting on a decision from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on a determination of their “50 percent” rule for HMS, which would result in additional funding made available for the project.
“When we have the middle school back, we need to make sure that those people are safe and that they’re in a good safe environment,” said Assemblyman Dan Mayfield.