Houghtaling Elementary School. (KRBD file photo)

Houghtaling Elementary School. (KRBD file photo)

In a 4-1 vote, the Ketchikan School Board agreed Wednesday to move forward with plans to renovate areas around Houghtaling Elementary School with the goal of improving student safety.

The board approved a $48,000 contract with R&M Engineering to start engineering design work for the project.

Board Member Kim Hodne voted against the motion; Board Members Misty Brown and Alma Parker were absent.

Board Member Glenn Brown said the design work should provide options for school district and Ketchikan Gateway Borough officials to consider. He gave some background on how the project became a top priority.

Peter Epler helps a Houghtling student cross safely Monday morning.

Peter Epler helps a Houghtling student cross safely. (KRBD file photo)

“This was kind of percolating going into last January’s work session between the School Board and the (Borough) Assembly,” he said. “A group of parents led by Julie Tibbles came and explained the situation in a way that the Assembly recognized the hazard. We had a child struck there two years ago – three years ago? And it is just a scary situation early in the morning and in the afternoon. So the Assembly, to their credit, said this is a public safety issue that we need to help with.”

Hodne had concerns about how this project jumped to the top of the priority list over other school infrastructure improvements.

“This thing is snowballing to a certain degree,” he said. “And I understand the safety issue, I was the safety director, I get it. But I’m just not 100 percent with the way this thing jumped to the head of the line and the cost.”

The current estimate of the overall project is about $500,000, but that could change once News Tilethe engineering design work has been completed. The cost of the project will be paid for by the borough, rather than the school district.

The area around Houghtaling Elementary School is extremely busy with parents and buses dropping off or picking up students. There are three other schools in close proximity: Revilla Alternative School, Holy Name Catholic School and Ketchikan High School.

Also Wednesday, the School Board talked about a report that recommends improvements to Kayhi’s activities program. The district plans to form an ad hoc committee to look into how it can implement those recommendations, which include policy reviews, better procedures for uniform and equipment replacement, and more funding to programs so they don’t have to fundraise as much.

Superintendent Robert Boyle said travel is a huge part of the cost. While in-state travel is pretty unavoidable, he questioned the value of extra fundraising for out-of-state travel.

“I made a mistake for a couple of years. We’ve treated out-of-state travel as: If you can raise the money, you get to go do that,” he said. “Unfortunately, that puts a lot of pressure on our community and it puts pressure on coaches to raise those funds. So, I think one of the recommendations may be to put limitations on out-of-state travel.”

The School Board will vote on forming an activities committee at its January 11 meeting. The recommended makeup of the committee includes School Board members, coaches, students, community members and Kayhi administrators.