Delta school district turns to feds to demolish old school

The Delta Greely School District wants to get rid of an old, unused schoolhouse on Fort Greely. But it can’t afford to demolish the structure, and the Army and state government have turned down requests by the district to pay those costs.

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Ft. Greely School, built in 1954, was closed in 2015. (Photo: courtesy: Fairbanks North Star Borough School District)

So, district officials took their case to Congress.

Money is tight in the Delta Greely School District. And it could get much tighter if talks that’ve been going on for two years now between district, federal and state officials fail to resolve the issue of who should pay to demolish the old Fort Greely School.

“Nobody really seems to have a solution, because of course nobody wants to foot the bill,” Delta School District Superintendent Laural Jackson said.

Jackson said the district can’t afford the project, because it would require a hazardous-waste cleanup that would cost far more than the district could afford.

“Our estimates are anywhere from $4.2 million to $7.5 million to demolish it – with the big unknown of how much asbestos is in there,” Jackson said.

Army officials have been insisting the district should pay to raze the 63-year-old structure, which the district closed two years ago because of high energy costs, a persistently leaky roof and the availability of space to relocate students in the two main schools in Delta.

“We do not have that kind of money around for demolishing the building,” Jackson said.

Jackson said either the federal or state government should pay for the demolition — the feds: because the U.S. Education Department gave the building to the district in the early 1990s after offering it to the state, which declined.

“They came to the district and we had a building full of students. We couldn’t say, ‘No, we don’t want it,’ because we had to have a place for all these kids,” She said.

But district enrollment plunged in the late 1990s as Fort Greely was shutting down, and began to rebound a decade later after the post was reopened as mainly a missile-defense base. The district used impact funds that came with the reopening to build a new elementary school in Delta and later used it and the high school in town to place students moved from the Greely school. Jackson said the school’s demolition is a state problem.

Jackson said because the Delta-Greely School District is a Regional Educational Attendance Area in an unorganized borough, the state should pay for demolition, as it’s required to do for all REAA schools’ capital costs. But after state officials declined, the district turned to Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

“We understand that the Army wants the district to demolish the building and remediate environmental contamination that existed prior to its occupancy,” Senator Murkowski said.

Murkowski raised the issue at a Senate subcommittee hearing with Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham, an Army assistant chief of staff and a witness at the hearing.

“The school district is really not in a financial position to do that,” Murkowski said. “And we’ve been trying to engage the Army on a solution here that does not bankrupt the school district.”

Bingham assured the senator that Army officials are aware of the problem.

“We have begun conversations with the school district, and what we aim to do is find an amicable solution where we can have a win-win,” Bingham said.

Jackson says Bingham’s comments make her hopeful that a solution will emerge in the near future.

Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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