ASD considers seismic resiliency upgrades to earthquake-damaged schools

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EAGLE RIVER, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage School District is weighing the options to protect schools and its future budget from devastating earthquakes like the one on Nov. 30, 2018.

On Friday, ASD updated the Anchorage Assembly on its path to repairing earthquake-damaged schools like Eagle River Elementary and Gruening Middle. What it can reasonably repair - and what it can reasonably incur in the form of taxpayer funding - will likely hinge on how much the Federal Emergency Management Agency will dole out in earthquake mitigation funding.

ASD says it has already received over $5 million dollars in FEMA disaster reimbursement. It's still awaiting reimbursement for equipment and repairs conducted in the wake of the earthquake.

"With this reimbursement, though, comes a requirement to retain and maintain proper earthquake insurance, which would be in perpetuity," ASD Chief Operating Officer Tom Roth said Friday.

For every dollar of reimbursement, ASD would have to match in earthquake insurance coverage. ASD consultant George Vakalis says investing in seismic upgrades would likely cost the district less money than acquiring earthquake insurance.

"Earthquake insurance up here is extremely expensive," Vakalis said. "So that's something that the district's going to have to really do a cost-benefit analysis on to see what's the best course of action for the taxpayers and the district."

ASD is looking at upgrading the seismic resiliency of both Eagle River Elementary and Gruening Middle schools, from 4 to 6.5 on a 1-to-10 scale. Roth says most district schools score a 4 on this scale, meaning they will not collapse and injure student and faculty. While the jump to 6.5 would significantly increase seismic resiliency, Vakalis says FEMA may or may not provide the mitigation funding if the district chooses that option over earthquake insurance.

"So when you look at all that, sometimes it's just not cost-effective to have insurance," Vakalis said. "So these alternate means would really be a boon for the district and the taxpayers, if in fact FEMA and the state will approve it."

Roth estimates repairs to earthquake-damaged district schools at $50 million. He estimates the cost of upgrading seismic performance is "three times that amount."

ASD has also applied for FEMA grant reimbursements for specific repairs -- up to $59 million -- for things like anchoring book cases, light fixtures, and ceiling tiles.

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