'We have waited our turn.' Teachers, parents say repairs overdue at Aquarian Charter School

Students use blankets to stay warm during class during a boiler outage at Aquarian Charter...
Students use blankets to stay warm during class during a boiler outage at Aquarian Charter School. (Photo courtesy of Laura Butcher) (KTUU)
Published: Oct. 15, 2019 at 4:08 PM AKDT
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From buckets catching rainwater in the halls to missing ceiling tiles and old deteriorating window frames, Aquarian Charter School's maintenance problems make it hard to believe that this school has a waiting list of 800.

But the serious problems with the school's structure have been frustrating parents who are attracted to the school's emphasis on technology, Spanish, music, art, and physical education. They're demanding a fix.

"We're not asking for a fancy building," Heidi Wailand, a parent and member of the school's academic policy committee, told KTUU. "We just want a building that we can rely on."

Parents have been fighting for fixes for a while, and thought that the problems would be addressed in 2015 when the school was listed at the top of the Anchorage School District's critical facility index. That means the school was estimated to be most in need of repairs to its roof, along with an additional list of separate problems.

According to members of the school's Academic Policy Committee, the school was removed from the list entirely in following years - despite the fact that almost none of the school's maintenance issues were addressed.

Last year, the school's boiler broke twice. Students resorted to using jackets and blankets to stay warm in class. In two of the main hallways, buckets are strategically placed under leaky spots.

It's been four bond cycles since the school district originally assessed and solidified concerns about the building's status. ASD currently claims $509.2 million in outstanding bonds and looks to take on an additional $79.78 million in 2020. As current formulas suggest, none of that money would go to Aquarian Charter School.

"It's become very clear recently that we're not even on the next five-year plan," Wailand said of the school, which moved into the building 18 years ago. That structure was originally constructed in 1965.

During a Wednesday afternoon tour of the facility, KTUU spoke with ASD school board member Andy Holleman about the current conditions at Aquarian Charter School. He noted the obvious need for improvements, but says that the school's charter status complicated the way that funds are appropriated -- Despite the school's charter status, it operates on Anchorage School District property.

"The solution is difficult but my message would be this is absolutely something that we need to figure out together," Holleman said of the school, which houses about 380 students and 50 teachers. "These are Anchorage School District kids, in an Anchorage School District building."

The school board expects testimony on the matter at its Wednesday night meeting, where bonds are expected to be a focus.

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