Upper Valley residents’ efforts to open Mosquito Lake School as a community center have stalled the past six months, partly due to turnover in Haines Borough administration. This is the second year that Mosquito Lake School has been closed. It initially shut down due to low enrollment. Upper Valley residents are hoping they can open the building as a community center now and as a school in the near future.
“This place used to be really, really loud,” said Sarah Marquardt. “The last time I remember it, there were kids doing cartwheels down the halls. It was good, good fun.”
Marquardt is standing in an empty classroom in Mosquito Lake School. She remembers it being full of rambunctious kids when she went to school here years ago.
“It’s really neat being in here,” she said. “On that side it was kind of the nap room. So Mr. B, Jeff Bochart was my teacher and he always played really awesome black and white great movies like the Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
Marquardt is from a family of eight children. She remembers her and her siblings’ pictures decorating the walls. Now, there are no pictures.
“It’s sad coming in here though, cause you could see all the pictures on the wall and you could literally see almost my entire family. It was pretty neat.”
She says her mom joked about how their family was keeping the school open with all of their kids. That’s probably not far off. To get state funding in Alaska, schools need to have ten or more students. When Mosquito Lake’s enrollment dropped below that number a few years ago, the school district kept it open one more year, and then closed it. That’s been hard for families who live out the highway.
“It was the school that really brought us up here,” said Edie Granger.
Granger and her husband Joe Ordonez say Mosquito Lake School was one of the main reasons they bought property up the highway. Their daughter, Stella, went there. They say the small school was like a family.
“They all got along and there wasn’t any of this bullying or any of that sort of stuff,” said Ordonez. “Plus the whole school class size was small. It’s kind of like a one room school house environment which is something that’s been lost in our country.”
Now Stella goes to Klukwan School, which is about eight miles away.
Some Upper Valley residents have chosen to send their children to Haines School. Gely Sutcliffe says that has not been easy for her nine-year-old, Sophia.
“In the winter especially, she comes home at 4:30. It’s dark. It’s very difficult. She’s a little tired, doing homework and that’s it, almost entire day is for school.”
Sutcliffe has a three-year-old and a one-year-old as well. She says she will probably send her three-year-old to Klukwan if Mosquito Lake School doesn’t open. She can’t imagine a Kindergartener spending two hours a day on the bus. But she’s really hoping this school does reopen, because she saw what a great education her daughter got here. She says, she wishes the school district and borough were more invested in the school.
“I see when there are tourists coming they spend lots of money so the tourists have a wonderful town,” Sutcliffe said. “But they cannot spend for our children here? That upsets me.”
Dana Hallett is president of the Friends of Mosquito Lake School and Community Center board. The group formed and became a nonprofit this year. Its main objective is to reopen the school as a school. But right now, they want permission from the borough to use it as a community center at least a few days a week.
“Our sense is that when we open the facility as a community center, then once again this center will become a place for the community, a location they identify with,” Hallett said. “Anything we can do to attract the families in the valley.”
Back in the spring, Friends of Mosquito Lake drew up a memorandum of understanding with former Community and Economic Development Director Bill Mandeville. Things were looking hopeful. But finalizing the MOU has stalled because of the turnover within borough administration. Mandeville resigned, the public facilities director job has changed hands, and borough manager Dave Sosa recently left.
“For me it certainly has tested my patience,” Hallett said.
So, will the school be able to open as a community center?
“I don’t know the answer to that,” said Brad Ryan, the public facilities director, soon to be interim borough manager. He has worked with the Mosquito Lake group on the MOU.
“One of the things that’s unclear to me on this is what is the assembly’s direction on that,” Ryan said. “When it was passed to me by Dave [Sosa], Dave was my supervisor, I was like fine, we’re moving forward. With the turnover, it’s caused Julie [Cozzi] and I to revisit it, Julie the acting borough manager, and I think we really need some direction from the assembly on it.”
Ryan says if the assembly wants to move forward with the MOU, then that’s what he’ll do. But right now, he’s not sure if the assembly was ever consulted.
Hallett says the borough’s stake in the school eventually reopening is obvious. It brings in more state funding to the school district, and more jobs to the community.
“The community, we the nonprofit representing the community out here are ready to go to the table and brainstorm the possibilities,” he said. “We are just waiting for somebody to come join us.”
As for the Mosquito Lake families with young children, they hope this building doesn’t stay empty for long. Sara Marqaurdt wants her toddler to be a student here.
“It would be really neat to have his picture up on the wall someday.”