Kachemak Selo makes progress toward a new school but the project isn’t guaranteed

A crack in the wall at Kachemak Selo High School. (Renee Gross, KBBI News)

Kachemak Selo, a small Russian Old Believer village at the head of Kachemak Bay, is desperate for a new school building. Deteriorating infrastructure and limited space has plagued the community for years. However, progress toward a new school is happening. The state dedicated about $10 million toward building a new school in 2016, and on Friday, the community choose a building site. A new school isn’t guaranteed just yet. The community still needs to convince Kenai Peninsula Borough residents to vote in favor of paying for the rest of the roughly $16 million project.

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Over a dozen Kachemak Selo community members gathered in a classroom in the village’s high school, which is actually a repurposed house, to choose a site to build a new school. There are cracks in the walls and floors throughout the building are noticeably sloping.

Aleks Murachev said that’s why the community needs a new school now, and he added that he’s scared for his four kids’ safety when they attend class.

I don’t feel that they are safe enough in there because it’s not safe,” Murachev said. “And we need a new school, that’s for sure”

The school buildings have been in terrible condition for years. Kevin Lyon is the project manager for the new school.

“I mean we’ve been through a long process here,” Lyon said. “I’m trying to think the first time I sat in this room was about in ’01. The village hadn’t asked for school yet. We were talking about the problems.”

In 2014, the community and borough chose potential sites for a new school. On Friday night, they were making the final decision between what they called the blue sight and the yellow site. The yellow site was appealing because it’s close to the village and would be a short walk for students. But a preliminary study found that it was at risk for a landslide.

“We have enough problems with schools and things that happen in schools,” Lyon said. “We all read or watch the news, that isn’t one that a school gets wiped out by a devastating natural event. That’s not something that I want my name attached to.”

Safety motivated the community to ultimately decide on the blue site, even though it is roughly a mile and a half farther east in the village. But that selection does come with a potential hang-up because the borough does not currently own the land at the site. Borough Land Manager Marcus Mueller said the borough would need to acquire the site and make sure a road is built to make it accessible.

“I don’t see that as being a borough road standard,” Mueller said. “The approach that we would be doing would be building a driveway out there.”

Expenses to fund the project is one of the final hurdles to building the school. The state allocated about $10 million for the project in 2016. But the borough needs to come up with about another $5 million to fund the rest of the project. That funding is set to expire next year, and the borough intends to ask voters this fall to pay for its matching funds.

Project Manager Lyon explained they have one chance to pass the bond.

“We get one swing at this bond and I don’t like playing baseball that way,” Lyon said.

However, there is a bill in the senate that would extend the deadline to use state funding until 2021. Whether or not this bill passes, the community still needs to convince residents around the Kenai Peninsula to vote yes on funding the remaining $5 million needed to build a school for the roughly 60 students in the village.

“It’s probably not in your nature but you’ve gotta let them know where Kachemak Selo is and what this building has, what your kids are not getting,” Lyon said. “And it’s a tight budget time but you’re going to need to show them what’s there.”

But it may be an uphill battle. Besides Aleks Murachev, the father who commented earlier, most Kachemak Selo residents were hesitant to comment on the need for the school publicly.