Gilbert Varela helps students cross the street in 2016 at Houghtaling Elementary School. (KRBD file photo)

In a split vote and after much discussion Wednesday, the Ketchikan School Board narrowly and rather reluctantly approved an $832,000 contract with Three Dog Construction to build the new Houghtaling Elementary School bus drop-off zone.

The expenditure still has to be approved by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly, which is expected to vote Monday on the issue. The funding source for the project was to come from state-reimbursed school capital improvement bonds.  

That program would reimburse the community for 70 percent of the cost, but Superintendent Robert Boyle says the state hasn’t made a final decision on whether the project is eligible.

Board President Trevor Shaw suggested adding some language to the motion, so the district isn’t beholden if funding falls through.

That amendment passed unanimously.  

School Board members agreed Wednesday that the project’s cost had ballooned from the original approximately $580,000 estimate. Some Board members wondered whether phasing in the project would allow for local funding initially, even without state reimbursement.

But, Boyle says the different parts of the project are integrated, and it would be more costly to try doing them separately.

Then the board talked about how the project managed to grow in scope and cost from the initial concept of a simple bus pass-through. The project now includes new parking spaces and other elements for the front of the building.

Boyle says that’s what happened when other governments got involved.

“The School District’s proposal was the original ($588,000),” he said. “The borough requested that they hire a traffic engineer to come in and look at the project. They paid him $10,000 or whatever it was for that. This is (from) that report.”

He says the city also had some input that affected cost.

In the end, the amended motion passed 4-3, with Board Members Kim Hodne, Trevor Shaw and Diane Gubatayao voting no.

Hodne says the safety problem at Houghtaling could be solved through administrative or policy action; and through drivers taking more responsibility when dropping off their kids.

Gubatayao says the money would be better spent on a new roof for the school; and Shaw says he doesn’t believe the Borough Assembly will approve the measure as it stands.

On the prevailing side, there was general concern over the scope and cost, but safety was deemed more important.  

Boyle noted that construction on the project would have to begin no later than June 1st for it to be done in time for next school year. The Borough Assembly’s vote on Monday will be the determining factor.

Also Wednesday, the School Board learned that contract negotiations with the Ketchikan Education Association have stalled. KEA has declared an impasse and called for a mediator. The current contract will continue until a new agreement has been reached.