Mat-Su District: One school may not be re-opened this year after quake

A second-floor wall at Houston Middle School shows separation after a 7.0 earthquake hit...
A second-floor wall at Houston Middle School shows separation after a 7.0 earthquake hit Southcentral Alaska last Friday. (KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: Dec. 3, 2018 at 2:22 PM AKST
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The Mat-Su Borough School District announced on Facebook Monday afternoon that one of its schools may not be able to reopen this school year, and five more may take longer than a week to reopen.

Houston Middle School received the most damage, Superintendent Monica Goyette said in the pre-recorded video announcement posted at 2 p.m. Monday. The school was the site of tours by Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy over the weekend before he was sworn into office Monday, and U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan on Monday.

"Pretty much every load-bearing structural concrete wall is compromised," said Tony Weese, the District's Capital Projects and Construction manager, during that tour. "So anywhere along long passages in the wall, there are stress cracks. Anywhere structural steel sits on the concrete block, those walls are damaged."

The second-floor hallway walls are separating. The building has fire alarm issues, ceiling issues, power issues, the sprinklers recessed into the ceiling, and it has many stress cracks and fissures Weese added.

"I think it is nothing short of a miracle that we had no children, no staff, no administrators, nobody, seriously injured. The devastation that we have seen here at Houston Middle School is just breathtaking really," Sen. Murkowski said during the tour.

The school was first built in 1985. The 9,000-square-foot school operated as a Jr./Sr. High School until the new Houston High School was opened for students in the 2003-2004 school year.

Houston Mayor Virgie Thompson, who also works at Houston Middle School, and worked at the school when it was Houston Jr./Sr. High School, said the school was "extremely devastated."

"I say extremely devastated because that's where I spent 24 years of my life nine months of the year, so when I put kids under desks last Friday I was pretty devastated as well," Thompson said.

Goyette said the first plan would be to see if the Middle School students could be integrated into Houston High School next door using portable classrooms, but a final decision had not yet been made.

Thompson said she appreciated the district trying to keep the school communities together.

"A good friend shared with me a saying," Thompson said in closing, "that students and staff make a school, not a building. And we'll move forward."

Houston High School is one of five schools Goyette said may take more than a week to reopen.

Also on that list are Colony Middle and High Schools, Finger Lake Elementary and Knik Elementary.

Goyette said there are 13 schools that are expected to be ready to open by Wednesday or Thursday, and 15 awaiting final inspection.