Something unprecedented happened at the Haines Borough Planning Commission meeting Thursday night. Borough Manager Dave Sosa withdrew his request for the commission to recommend classifying the Mosquito Lake School property for sale. That happened after an hour of public comment.
There were dozens of people who spoke against classifying the borough-owned Mosquito Lake School for sale. The school operated for about 30 years before closing last year when student numbers dropped below 10.
Resident Chuck Mitman said the community is organizing to find a way to reopen the school. But the looming possibility of the borough selling the building hurt that mission.
“To know that the rug could be pulled out from under you kills your ambition,” he said.
Many members of the group Friends of Mosquito Lake School and Community Center said they just need more time. They felt like the borough was moving too quickly toward the possibility of selling.
“Selling the facility equals sacrificing long-term social and economic benefits for a short term buck,” Dana Hallett said.
Some people asked how the borough could expect to generate economic and population growth by giving up a school in an area where land is more affordable and available than in other parts of the borough.
After about a dozen people spoke, borough manager Dave Sosa stood up. Sosa put Mosquito Lake School on the planning commission’s agenda asking they recommend classifying it for sale. Sosa said for the borough to keep the building, there needs to be a viable plan.
“I think a lot of people hoped it would remain open. And it didn’t,” Sosa said. “And I’ve always been taught that hope is not a course of action.”
Sosa said that classifying the building for sale does not mean it will be sold. Selling it would be a long process with many steps and opportunities for public input. He said yes, it would be nice if there was a way to keep the school open, but if not, letting it just sit there empty is not worth it.
A few more people spoke, including a former student.
“You’re not learning based on what a big class should be learning, it’s about you,” Corinna Hill said.
Then, Sosa stood up again.
“I like what I’ve heard tonight, ’cause it looks like they’re very serious,” Sosa said. “I will withdraw my request, subject to a review in six months.”
Sosa says seeing the number of people so committed to working on resolving this is what changed his mind.
“If they were complaining and saying ‘We want the commission to fix this for us, we want the assembly to fix this for us, we want the borough to fix this for us,’ that would not have in any way motivated me to give them more time,” he said. “When you have a group of people saying ‘We know there’s problem, we want to fix this, we know we’re part of the solution and we’re going to find a way,’ then it makes sense to work with them.”
Sosa said he will revisit the option of selling Mosquito Lake School in six months. He had already sent an email to borough staff about it.
All of the planning commission members spoke in favor of the borough retaining ownership of the school. Commission member Heather Lende responded to something Sosa said earlier in the meeting. She said, in Haines, hope is a course of action.
Two new members will join the planning commission pending borough assembly approval. Brenda Josephson and Rob Miller are set to fill two vacant seats. Scott Sundberg submitted a letter of interest for one of the open positions, but he withdrew it at the meeting to let the other two candidates take the spots.
Planning Commission Chair Rob Goldberg said that in more than a decade serving on the commission, he had never seen a borough manager withdraw a request at the last minute like that.
At the end of the meeting, Goldberg looked at the people filling the room and said, “Everyone can go home and start breathing again.”