A is for Action

Spring_2019 A is for Action
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District saw significant cosmetic and some structural damage to its buildings. Photo courtesy Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District


By Cheyenne Mathews

The intense earthquake on Nov. 30 rattled Southcentral Alaska and revved up the Alaska construction industry. With the largest municipalities and boroughs in the state affected, a multitude of contractors, engineers and architects have been immersed in the immediate and long-term repair efforts.

Residential areas in the Anchorage Municipality and Matanuska-Susitna Borough were affected in the thousands. Casey Cook, emergency manager for the Mat-Su borough, estimated that at least 1,500 households there have been affected by the earthquake.

“I think everybody experienced some damage, whether that was a picture falling off a wall or all the way up to foundations being moved,” Cook said.

The Anchorage Municipality has received almost 3,000 requests for home inspections, according to Christopher Schutte, director of the Office of Economic & Community Development.

While residential areas account for a large part of the damage, state and city facilities have been affected in numerous ways.

Anchorage School District

Keri Shivers, project manager at the Anchorage School District, said every one of ASD’s 92 facilities was affected in some way, but only two schools have been closed for the rest of the 2018-2019 school year. Gruening Middle School and Eagle River Elementary are undergoing evaluation processes that will help ASD decide the most cost-effective method for reopening those schools.

“We are evaluating each structure that’s closed right now for the best course of action,” Shivers said. “So whether it’s fixing what’s there, tearing down a section and rebuilding it, or starting over with a new structure, it is a complex decision that has a great impact on our community, and we are working diligently to come up with the best solution.”

Spring_2019 A is for Action
Colony High School was scheduled to have full renovations completed by March 30. Photo courtesy Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District.


Shivers estimated that it may take a year before a concrete plan of action for the two schools is out for bid. Project timelines for less-damaged structures should be available soon.

“Schools that didn’t sustain very much damage could possibly have scopes of work going out sooner than say a Gruening or Eagle River Elementary, which is a substantial project,” Shivers said.

Roger Hickel Contracting was one of several contractors asked to conduct emergency repairs within an hour of the earthquake. Scott Dunlap, vice president of Roger Hickel Contracting, said the company managed repairs on 29 ASD buildings in the week following the earthquake.

“We kind of all worked together to drive some of these timelines,” Dunlap said. “We’re happy to say that, of the 29 schools we were assigned by ASD, we got all of them opened up on time. There were some areas of the schools where the damage was so much that we had to quarantine the area off, but kids were back in all 29 of our schools.”

Now, Roger Hickel Contracting is wrapping up repairs with replacements of light fixtures and mechanical components that were ordered immediately following the earthquake.

“I would say we are more or less complete with the work that’s going to happen during the school year. During the summer, there could be more work that pops up,” Dunlap said.

Spring_2019 A is for Action
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District saw significant cosmetic and some structural damage to its buildings. Photo courtesy Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District

Municipality of Anchorage

All MOA buildings have been inspected, and, except for two buildings, most permanent repairs will only take six to 12 months to complete, Schutte said. Eagle River Fire Station No. 11 and the Anchorage Regional Landfill are the exceptions, as they sustained severe structural damage.

“MOA is currently designing structural repairs on some buildings and putting together bid packages to do work a multitude of other repairs that will fall outside of our capacity,” according to a memo prepared by the municipality.

Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility’s buildings faced severe cosmetic damage and some structural damage. MOA estimates that these repairs will cost a few million dollars. A Municipal Light and Power facility had a fire suppression sprinkler release about 1,000 gallons of water inside the facility, which caused severe water damage. Temporary repairs have been made to damaged MOA roads, but final repairs will not be possible until the spring. While repairs are forecast to cost the MOA millions, Schutte believes there are some positives for the Alaska economy.

“We believe that Anchorage-area businesses (general contractors, engineers, concrete and metal fabrication companies, environmental companies, etc.) are experiencing a sharp increase in business during a timeframe that is normally slow,” Schutte said. “I would imagine this unexpected increase in business will help many of the local area businesses.”

Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District

Jillian Morrissey, the public information officer for the district, said the borough is in charge of three major projects within the district, including Colony High School Gym repair and Houston Middle School and Knik Elementary Gym tile repairs.

“Colony (High School) is proposed to be done by March 30,” Morrissey said. “Knik will also be done this spring, and currently there is no timeline for Houston Middle School.”

The middle school is closed for at least the next year, possibly longer.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough

The borough gained national attention after the earthquake when images of cracked Vine Road circulated on social media. While temporary repairs have been made to damaged roads, Terry Dolan, the borough’s director of public works, said permanent repairs won’t begin until summer.

“Typically the permanent repairs will be funded with emergency money from FEMA, and getting your hands on those monies is complicated,” Dolan said. “It takes some time, so you may see us live with some temporary repairs until FEMA gives us what they call a project worksheet; that project worksheet allows us to do specific permanent repair tasks, and FEMA will reimburse us for that.”

Since long-term repair measures are not considered “emergency repairs,” each road project will go out to bid sometime this summer.

“When FEMA gives us funds to do this with, their authority that they’ll grant to us will be to return the facility to pre-earthquake condition,” Dolan said. “So, you’re not going to see any road upgrades.”


The Alaska Division of Facilities Services states it inspected 369 public buildings from Mat-Su to Soldotna and Kenai. Thirteen of those buildings were designated a “yellow,” or restricted status, but none was marked with a red access prohibited marker.

Matt Tanaka, project manager with the Division of Facilities Services, or DFS, said the most significant damage was sustained by Anchorage buildings, including the DFS Annex building. Work on the annex building may take over a year to repair. Other hard-hit buildings, such as the Boney Courthouse, the State Aviation Headquarters building and the Department of Transportation Annex building, were able to resume normal operations four days after the earthquake.

Cheyenne Mathews is a freelance writer living in Anchorage.