By Margaret Friedenauer
Mosquito Lake and Highway residents are gathering next week to talk about how the community might use the empty Mosquito Lake School.
The Haines District School Board voted in the spring to close the school after enrollment dropped in the last few years. The school only had six students registered last year. It needs at least 10 to receive state funding.
The building is owned by the Haines Borough, which took steps to mothball it, keeping it heated to about 50 degrees and disposing of the some of the school equipment. Former Mayor Stephanie Scott had expressed interest in selling the building and according to borough manager Dave Sosa, he’s taken preliminary steps in that direction, including having its value assessed.
But the school board wanted the building to be used again as a school, if at least 10 students were interested in attending in the future, says school board president Anne Marie Palmieri.
“When we closed the school, it was our intent that if there were 10 students who wanted to go to the school in the future, we could reopen it,” Palmieri said. “That being said, it isn’t our building.”
Some community members are surprised the borough is thinking of selling the building. Edie Granger said she and two other Mosquito Lake residents recently met with Sosa to ask if they could use the building for a meeting and community activities. She had a list of eight families interested in using the school for an open gym and others interested in holding a play group there.
“I just brought a couple of ideas because to crack the door and then see where we could go from there and not ask too much, was sort of my idea,” Granger said.
Granger started a Facebook page to discuss other ideas, like a yoga class and movie night. Some people commented on the page that several years ago, the school used to host activities at the building several nights a week and was staffed by the district’s community education director.
But Sosa told Granger the building could not be used this year. He said there’s no money budgeted to heat the building or provide any staff to manage it. He said he would consider a proposal for community use of the building in next year’s budget, but said there would be many details to work out, including insurance, liability and how to staff and maintain it.
“It’s not as simple as saying we have a building let’s let people use it,” Sosa said.
Sosa said he’s in favor of trying to sell the building and collect the property tax for the borough.
Granger said she’s hopeful the Mosquito Lake and Highway community can brainstorm a way to keep it as community gathering place and possibly a school in the future. Her daughter attended Mosquito Lake School until it closed last year and now attends Klukwan School. She said the process of getting rid of the building seems to being moving more quickly than anyone expected. And for a community that has such a long and emotional attachment to the building, it’s not going to be easy to let go.
“What it feels like to me is that it was closed very unceremoniously,” Granger said. “There are people up here who went to school there and now they have kids that could go to school there if it was still open. So there’s this generational thing going on and it means a lot to a lot of people here and I don’t know if people really understand that.”
A gathering is planned for Tuesday evening for residents of the Mosquito Lake and the Highway area to discuss the future of the building. Granger said the time and place is yet to be determined. But people can join the Facebook page called “Friends of Mosquito Lake School and Community Center” to stay updated. It already has more than 80 members.