If you visit the Homer High School library today, you’ll notice some alarming changes. Several shelves on the left side of the library near the entrance are empty of books or have been moved outright; ceiling tiles scattered throughout the library are either missing or show large, discolored spots; half a dozen trash cans are strategically placed on the library floor or on bookshelves to catch drips falling from the ceiling.
Homer High School librarian Deb Curtis first found puddles inside the library when she came into work on Monday, Jan. 23.
“A student pointed out that there was water on the bookshelves and a table,” Curtis told the Homer News in a later interview. “There’s a plant [on the table], and I went over there thinking, ‘Did somebody water my plant?’ [I’m] processing all this water, and I go to move the plant and wipe up, and I feel drips on my head.”
With some assistance from students, Curtis removed books from the shelves that were directly in the line of the water leaks. Later, they moved some of the shelves themselves out of the way.
“That area of the library is unusable until [the roof] is fixed,” Curtis said. “But there are also two areas in the library that have been patchwork for years.”
A hole in the wall reveals a temporary catchment system that was previously installed by borough maintenance. On the other side of the library, a large trash can containing a sump pump and a hose sits underneath another temporary catchment system inside the wall.
“If [the trash can] gets full, we stick the hose out the window and spray the water out,” Curtis said. “That [sump pump system] was there last year. But the leaks have started spreading.”
This is not the first year Homer High School has experienced water issues. The 141,000 square-foot roof, installed in 1983, suffered major leaks in 2021 that caused damage to several offices, including the office of Principal Doug Waclawski, and areas over the gymnasium and library. The roof previously had minor leaks for several years depending on the weather, Waclawski had told the Homer News. A memo that accompanied the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly ordinance passed on March 2, 2021 to appropriate funding to design an initial roof-replacement project noted that the roof had “exceeded its useful life,” Homer News reported in an article published March 17, 2021.
The first phase of the project repaired approximately 34,000 square feet of roof, covering the gym area and the loading docks. The remaining roof area is scheduled to be repaired this summer.
The contract for the project’s second phase was awarded last July to Earhart Roofing Company Inc., out of Anchorage. Materials started arriving in December and are currently being stored in the lower high school parking lot.
“We went as far as the money would go,” Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Director of Planning and Operations Kevin Lyon said of the project’s multi-phase nature. “[We] had a fixed amount for the first round, and they did the part that was leaking the worst, and then we got the rest of the funds and [we’ll get] the next piece done.”
Homer High School is not the only borough-owned building to be suffering from these kinds of issues. The failing roof is illustrative of a massive amount of deferred maintenance projects that are finally receiving long-overdue attention.
“This is not the only school that’s struggling,” Lyon said. “[We’re] trying to get those [projects] cranked up before we end up in a spot like the [Homer High] library. That’s what we get for running up to ‘end of life’ and beyond.”
The extensive borough-wide deferred maintenance adds up to approximately $420 million, according to Kenai Peninsula Education Association president Nathan Erfurth.
“Elected officials and … the public in general haven’t really prioritized maintaining these buildings. They’re the borough’s responsibility in most cases, and because maintenance is expensive and not popular, and generally doesn’t win at the ballot box, this is the cost that we end up paying instead,” Erfurth said.
An approximately $65 million bond package geared toward major maintenance, capital improvements, and facility replacement for multiple schools borough-wide was approved for issuance after the general borough election on Oct. 4, 2022. The passing of this bond package is generally considered as a great victory in the face of the long battle with deferred maintenance.
“Primarily [deferred maintenance is] a funding thing. And I think having that huge bond pass was very encouraging — it showed that people actually cared about what was going on in our schools,” Erfurth said.
Three other school roofs listed on the bond package have been declared “at the end of their useful life,” including Hope School, Mountain View Elementary and Nikiski North Star Elementary. The bond is also slated to cover other projects including building a new Soldotna Elementary and the Seward High School track, according to Erfurth.
The Homer High School library is currently experiencing a brief reprieve from active water leaks due to the recent freezing weather. However, the leaks will restart with heavy precipitation and/or warming temperatures. Borough maintenance is continuously working to track down the leaks and stop water from coming into the building, according to Lyon.
“But … they’re old cedar shakes up there, which are really difficult to try to chase down once you start having issues,” Lyon said. “They’ve identified locations where it’s getting through, but sometimes [water] enters the roof structure farther back, runs along the wood, then comes down the seam of the wood. Maintenance is trying to make it stop.”
Curtis expressed concern about the potential damage to the approximately 10,500 books housed in the library if the leaks continue to spread.
“If the library is dripping inside, the books are at risk, but so is the carpet and the [ceiling] tiles that have become saturated, and leaked and had to be removed,” Curtis said. “Also the shelving, which was built in-house when the library was built, would be damaged. Again, it’s a bigger deferred maintenance issue throughout the district.”
Repairs for damage to the library facility will be funded by borough maintenance accounts, according to Lyon.
“If things need to be done, we can prioritize and move [repairs] up,” he said.
Homer High School faculty are looking forward to the roof being fully replaced.
“Those leaks are there until the roof is repaired,” Curtis said.
Previous reporting from Homer News on the ongoing roof replacement project can be found at homernews.com/news/assembly-approves-funding-to-design-1st-phase-homer-high-roof-replacement/.