‘We will rebuild’: Kaktovik prioritizes getting kids back to class following school fire

Smoke fills the air in the North Slope village of Kaktovik. A fire destroyed much of the community’s only school on Feb. 7, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Kaleak)

The village of Kaktovik is still clearing the rubble after a Friday morning fire destroyed much of the only school in town. The community plans to rebuild the school, but the timeline is still unknown. 

Kaktovik Mayor Amanda Kaleak said the first priority is restoring a sense of normalcy for the students as they resume school. 

“We have a five-plex that we’re going to be using for classrooms,” she said. “Just getting everything to where the kids don’t have to fall back, and so we don’t have to extend the school year any longer.”

Kaleak says the city hopes to get kids back into classes next week. Currently, the city building’s internet bandwidth isn’t set up to accommodate the needs of the students, so that is something Kaleak says is being worked on. Additionally, the building will need more power to adjust to the students. 

Kaleak says the North Slope Borough met with Kaktovik officials over the weekend to discuss the long-term plans for replacing the school. While the building was insured, she says, the borough doesn’t yet know how long it will take to build a new school.

“There’s still all that rubble and all the frames and stuff of what was once our new gym and our school that are still there,” Kaleak said. “We still have the fire marshal here investigating. So after they have that all turned over, then we will be able to demo all that and go from there.”

“We will rebuild,” Kaleak continued. “That’s our plan. Everyone’s in high hopes.”

Kaleak says the students and the community are still in shock over the loss of the school. She says about 20 students were away at a basketball tournament in the village of Atqasuk when the fire started last week. They returned home to a huge loss.

“We had all our banners from every award that we ever won, from the ’70s and ’80s, all the trophies,” Kaleak said. “All those memories. It’s kinda hard to think about it.”

When they do end up rebuilding the school, staff will be able to decorate with the sportsmanship trophies the boys and girls won during their weekend tournament.

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

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