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LKSD plans to start building Ayaprun's replacement school next year, but COVID could complicate things

LKSD will take over operations of Suurvik Cinema, beginning Jan. 1, 2020.
Airn Carl
The current location for Ayaprun Elitnaurvik in a building that used to be a grocery store.

It’s been six years since the Kilbuck school burnt down in Bethel. Since then, the students of Ayaprun Elitnaurvik, the Yup’ik immersion school, have been learning in what used to be a grocery store. The school district is planning on finally beginning construction of a new school in summer 2022, but COVID-19 may get in the way.

After the Kilbuck school burned down in Bethel in 2015, a legal battle ensued between the Lower Kuskokwim School District and its insurance companies. The disagreement lasted years and included a lawsuit, all the while delaying construction of a replacement school. Last fall, the district finally came to a settlement with its insurers. And it began building a foundation for a new school next to the district office where Superintendent Kimberly Hankins works.

“I get to see the work in progress every day out my office window,” Hankins said. “And something that we've been waiting for so long to move forward on actually happening, it's very exciting.”

Hankins said that the district plans to begin construction on the school building itself in spring 2022 and finish by the summer of 2023.

“That's the goal, right now,” Hankins said.

The economics of the pandemic might get in the way. The district has yet to put the project out to bid, where companies quote the school for how much it would cost them to build the project and the district picks the best option. The problem is that with the cost of lumber and other construction supplies skyrocketing during the pandemic, Hankins and the district have no idea what the cost of construction will be.

“I think I know where it should be, which is in the tens of millions of dollars,” Hankins said. “With COVID costs and, we know, associated increase in materials and labor, I don't even know. I don't even have an estimate.”

If all the companies’ bids are higher than the amount the district received in its insurance settlement, then the district is in trouble.

Hankins said that there are a few corners they could cut in the design to reduce the cost. Asked whether the district would consider waiting until the cost of lumber and other supplies come down or redesigning the project to be cheaper, Hankins said that’s not yet a possibility the district is considering.

“We are optimistic that the bids will come back within the budget we have, and that we'll be breaking ground on the next phase in the spring,” Hankins said.

Hankins declined to say how much the district received in its insurance settlement from the Kilbuck fire. The district will find out if that amount is enough once all the bids come back early next year.

Greg Kim was a news reporter for KYUK from 2019-2022.
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