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Houston Middle School condemned due to earthquake damage

The entire building needs to be torn down and replaced which is estimated to cost about $35 million
The Mat-Su Borough Assembly voted to condemn Houston Middle School after the November 30, 2018...
The Mat-Su Borough Assembly voted to condemn Houston Middle School after the November 30, 2018 earthquake caused catastrophic damage.(Heather Hintze)
Published: Sep. 17, 2020 at 12:19 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) -Houston Middle School has been condemned as a health and fire hazard. Matanuska-Susitna Borough assembly members approved the condemnation 6-1 with George McKee voting against it.

The building has been closed since Nov. 30, 2018 after an earthquake caused catastrophic damage.

Capital Projects Director Jude Bilafer told the assembly the borough contracted an architectural firm to do “destructive analysis” on the building.

“We found significantly more damage than anyone anticipated or found,” Bilafer said.

Last year the Mat-Su School Board approved a plan to replace the two-story classroom wing that took the brunt of the damage and repair the administrative wing and gym.

Jeff Walden, the project management division supervisor, said trying to fix the building would only have brought it about 60% up to code.

“We went ahead and designed those repairs but when it came time to estimate what it would cost to actually do the repairs we discovered it was more cost effective to tear it down and start over,” Walden said.

With the extensive damage the contractors found, the borough estimates it will now cost $34.9 million to tear down and replace the entire facility.

There is currently about $25 million in funding approved for the project, about $15 million of which came from insurance money, the borough’s finance director, Cheyenne Heindel, told the assembly.

Bilafer asked the assembly to condemn the building, which could make it easier to get federal funds.

“It is in the best interest, the safety, the health of everyone surrounding Houston 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,” Bilafer said.

Middle school students have been moved into the high school building and portable classrooms since school resumed after the earthquake.

The Mat-Su Borough will put out advertisements to hire a demolition company. Over the winter they’ll finish the design phase.

Walden expects construction to take about one year.

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