About 40 people gathered at the Klehini Valley Fire Hall Tuesday evening to talk about the future of the Mosquito Lake School building. It was similar to a meeting held earlier this year, when the district shut down the school due to low enrollment.
Some residents said they didn’t know closing the school meant closing the building for other uses. Many want to use the building as a community center, but the Haines Borough is thinking about selling it.
Borough Manager Dave Sosa attended the meeting, and the residents put him on the spot. They asked why they can’t use the school building for things like meetings and open gym, and why the borough wants to sell the facility that has served their community for about 30 years.
“Is the borough really saying to the people that live in the outer borough, excluding the town site, that we have no right to a facility of our own?” resident Jim Stanford asked.
“No, we’re not,” Sosa replied. “I think the position the borough is taking is we need to have a use identified for the facility and we need to ensure that use is a valuable use.”
Sosa says, when the school board decided to close the school, residents didn’t present a plan to use the building for a community center. So, money to run it like one was not included in the budget. The borough only budgeted $30,000 to maintain it at the bare minimum.
Sosa says one option to fund a community center is to impose an additional tax on property owners in the area.
Residents said that they pay for services like the pool and open gym in town, so why couldn’t some of that money go to services like that out the road?
“It seems like we’re the bastard child almost,” said Chuck Mitman “I haven’t seen a single, solitary service. We help pay for the pool, we have to help pay for all those other things in there. And true, we get a chance to use those things, they’re wonderful things.”
But we don’t want to be forgotten, he said.
Some people at the meeting were interested in trying to find a way to open the school again next year. Pat Warren pointed out parents at the meeting with babies and toddlers.
“You have children coming up, so you have kids that are gonna be school-age in two or three years,” she said. “So these young parents are going to have to take them to town school because you guys do not care about them out here.”
Joe Ordonez said a community center could easily piggyback off of the school if it were open.
“It’s a lot harder road to get the community center without the school,” he said. “With the school going, the building’s already heated, there’s already people running it, there’s money coming in a huge way from the state.”
Haines School District Superintendent Ginger Jewell, who was at the meeting, says it all comes down to enrollment. A school needs ten students to get state funding. Haines School principal Cheryl Stickler says she surveyed Haines families earlier this year asking if they’d be willing to bus their students from town to Mosquito Lake School. No one said they were interested.
“As these children get older and become school-ready, I agree with you,” Stickler said. “Yes, they deserve to be served in their community. But the bottom line is we need ten [students].”
Borough Assembly member George Campbell was also at the meeting. He says one problem is this: some families in Mosquito Lake were not enrolling their kids in the school. He mentioned one parent he knows with three children.
“She is not the only person I know of…there are lots of children that were here last year here of the right age that aren’t going to this school.”
Towards the end of the meeting, it seemed like the main goal of the group was to open the building as a community center until there are enough students to run it as a school.
Sosa, Jewell and Campbell encouraged the residents to bring the borough a plan. If it’s strong enough, it could be included in next year’s budget, which will be put together in the next five months. Sosa says the plan should explore all the strengths and weaknesses of their proposal.
“What are the constraints that you’re facing?” Sosa said. “Take a look at the alternatives. Why isn’t the children going to Klukwan [school] a good idea? Or if it is a good idea, why is your idea better? You can’t ignore the other opportunities out there. It’s not just about your plan, it’s about what else is going on and why it’s a more valid option than some of the other options.”
Sosa says the option to sell the building is still on the table. If the borough approved and budgeted for turning the facility into a community center, the funding wouldn’t be available until next fiscal year, starting July 1st.
People interested in forming a task force to create a plan are meeting next Wednesday at 6 p.m. Edie Granger says they are trying to convince the borough to let them use the Mosquito Lake School building for that meeting.