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Gastineau set to open on time, although work will continue

Renovations ran past first day of school last year as well

Posted: August 8, 2012 - 12:04am
Construction on the offices, library and other common areas at Gastineau Community School are underway with school starting in less than two weeks.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Construction on the offices, library and other common areas at Gastineau Community School are underway with school starting in less than two weeks.

Although construction work at Gastineau Community School suffered a series of setbacks and delays this summer, the elementary school in Douglas is scheduled to open on time for the first day of school later this month, according to officials.

John Bohan, acting director of the Engineering Department, said Tuesday that students will be able to start school on time. Parts of the major renovation project at Gastineau will continue past the beginning of the school year on Aug. 20.

“I know they’re still going to be working, but they will have school on time,” Bohan said.

Project manager Nathan Coffee, an architect associate in the Engineering Department, said construction work that continues beyond the start of school will be “mitigated.”

“It won’t happen during school hours,” Coffee said.

Last summer, when Gastineau’s classrooms were renovated, construction work also lasted beyond the start of school. Crews had to work around the school day, after school hours and on the weekends, until that phase of the renovation project was completed.

In its second season this year, work at Gastineau has at times veered decidedly off-script.

On June 21, the discovery of decades-old human remains buried outside Gastineau’s main entrance prompted work to stop briefly in front of the building.

Little more than a week later, evidence of more gravesites predating the school’s construction in the 1950s and 1960s was uncovered, resulting in another, lengthier delay to site work outside the building.

The Douglas Indian Association held a blessing ceremony for the deceased on July 17, which several City and Borough of Juneau employees, Assembly members, and Juneau School District officials attended.

At the ceremony, tribal administrator Andrea Cadiente-Laiti said DIA elders had decided to give their approval for construction to continue so that the school can reopen, despite the presence of Native gravesites buried on school grounds.

The school’s new principal, Brenda Edwards, acknowledged the matter of the gravesites in a message posted to Gastineau’s website last Wednesday updating “students, families and friends of Gastineau School” on the status of the renovations.

“The Juneau School District, City and Borough of Juneau and the Douglas Indian Association have been working closely to ensure that the site is treated with honor and respect,” wrote Edwards. “As we move forward together, we are exploring ways to remember this important place.”

Of the construction status, Edwards added, “We will continue to keep you informed and updated, as we get closer to the start of school.”

Debbie Lowenthal, a member of the Gastineau Site Council who has two children at the school, said she appreciates that Edwards has reached out to parents since assuming her duties as principal.

“I think some parents just thought that school might be delayed if construction wasn’t finished,” Lowenthal said. Of Edwards, she added, “I think that her message really helped parents in terms of knowing that Gastineau would not be delayed.”

Gastineau parent Karla Bush, who co-chairs the Friends of Gastineau School, said she “didn’t have any concerns” about the project delaying the start of school, but understands how some parents might have worried.

“I think when you drive by and see a huge hole in the ground, you know, it can raise people’s concerns,” said Bush.

Lowenthal said that even if some common areas in the school, such as the gymnasium and cafeteria, are not ready for students when school starts, she is “completely confident” that children’s safety will be ensured.

“The most important thing is that it’s a safe environment for kids, and I think, you know, it will be,” Lowenthal said.

Coffee said any prediction of what parts of the school will be open by the time school starts would be “speculation” on his part.

“It’s not something that we can control,” Coffee said. He added, “It just depends on how much work gets done over the next two weeks.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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