More community discussion of options for public safety, HERC buildings needed

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Proposed Ordinance 2014-31: Authorizing the Repeal of a Deed Restriction on a parcel of land where the former Homer Intermediate School was located will allow this land to be sold.

The property was originally donated by citizens to the territorial school, the PTA, and the territory of Alaska in the 1940s and 1950s, and then transferred to the borough in 1974. The original deed required that the parcel be used only for school purposes. So when the borough transferred it to the city of Homer 2000 they filed a Quiet Title that removed the school restrictions.

Unfortunately, the purpose of only school uses some of Homer’s first citizens intended has been thrown out. 

This land has for years been used for public education and more recently, other adjunct educational and recreational purposes. It adjoins a middle school. The property has provided, and should continue to provide, services that augment the mission of the adjacent school and provide much needed recreational space for youth and the community.

The skateboard park, the gym, the home for Boys and Girls Club, college classes, park space for local nonprofits to hold events, and more have provided well-used services that are within the intent of education. Some programs have lost funding or been discontinued due to uncertainty about the future of the building. 

Public safety also needs a new space, but it does not necessarily have to be this space. A parcel right across from McDonald’s is about the right size. There is land available in the area around the existing public safety complex, but it is just shy of the requested ideal size. Creative planning and design should be used.

Repurposing existing facilities is less wasteful.  Look at the old concrete building on Pioneer Avenue that has been beautifully renovated to house Hospice of Homer, Independent Living, and First American Title.

I would like to see an in-depth community discussion of options that will provide for needs of both public safety and the programs that HERC has housed. We need to slow down and make sure we make the best decision for the overall community. 

A prime school site within the main part of town is very valuable and should not be so easily taken from its original school intent.

The HERC building has served this community well. I taught in that building for many years. As far as I know, any problems with asbestos have been resolved by containing it. The gym is a great public asset. We need a good, safely located, permanent space to reinstitute the Boys and Girls Club.  

This site would serve the community well into the future and be an asset to the adjacent school if we finally dedicate it to this purpose and do some community planning.

I urge the planning commission and assembly to retain the deed restrictions and direct the city of Homer to do more work to see how the needs of the community can be met for both public recreation, education, youth programs, and public safety. Completely taking away one for the other does not resolve the needs of the community.  

Let the borough planning commission and borough assembly know what you think before Nov. 3.

Nina Faust is a retired high school teacher and long-time community activist.