- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2020

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly in Alaska has declared a middle school damaged by an earthquake to be a fire and health hazard, paving the way for potential demolition.

The Tuesday announcement came after workers hired by the borough found that Houston Middle School in the Anchorage suburb of Big Lake was far more damaged than officials had initially thought. The building suffered substantial damage after a magnitude 7.1 earthquake in November 2018.

The school district had previously passed a resolution to repair parts of the school and replace others, but the newly discovered damage made demolishing the facility the less risky option.

“It is in the best interest, the safety, the health of everyone surrounding Huston Middle School - be it inside the school as students, faculty or parents, or even the construction workers - to start from ground zero on this building,” said Jude Bilafer, capital projects director for the borough.

The ordinance to declare the school a hazard and pave the way for demolition passed by a 6-1 vote.



Bilafer said condemning the school as a hazard could help bring funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the project.

The borough’s finance director, Cheyenne Heindel, told the Assembly that the borough has received about $25 million of the estimated $34 million needed to demolish the facility. The funding is comprised of insurance money, interest in school bonds and money from the school district, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Assemblyman George McKee, who cast the only vote against declaring the school a hazard, said there is no guarantee the borough will receive the extra $9 million needed to fund the project.

About 380 students attended Houston Middle School at its original facility before the earthquake. Students were moved to Houston High School and portable classrooms after the middle school’s buildings were forced to close.

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