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Chamber boosts Valley school plan

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2003

The Juneau Chamber of Commerce board of directors has passed a resolution urging the Juneau Assembly to support the school district's plan to build $62 million Mendenhall Valley high school, chamber President Jim Scholz announced Friday.

"I don't believe there was any resistance at all for moving forward with this project," Scholz said.

The district has proposed building a 1,050-student high school at Dimond Park that could open in 2006. The school would be roughly the size of Juneau-Douglas High School and would have an auditorium and two gymnasiums.

The Assembly's Public Works and Facilities Committee on Wednesday passed on the district's high school plan to the full Assembly for consideration. But the committee, and city staff, recommended that the Assembly ask the district to shrink the size of the proposed school, cutting the cost back to the $50 million that voters originally approved in 1999.

City staff said Juneau's projected population over the next 10 years wouldn't grow enough to require the larger school.

The district has argued that it cannot build the school the community wants without spending the extra money. The current design is the result of a long public process in which community members overwhelmingly said they wanted a school that was equivalent to JDHS, district officials said.

The $12 million increase from the original budget is partly the result of inflation and labor-cost increases over the last four years, officials said. The $62 million school would require voter approval in a springtime special election.

"There were some people who were concerned about spending an additional $12 million," Scholz said. "We did not want to have a substandard school in the Valley."

Public Works and Facilities Committee members Ken Koelsch and Jeannie Johnson expressed concern about a property-tax increase that would result from building the larger school - roughly an extra $100 for a taxpayer who owns a typical $200,000 house.

The resolution from the chamber, traditionally a fiscally conservative group of business owners, runs counter to the Public Works recommendation.

"I have no idea why they did that, but I am glad that they got involved with it. I hope that they looked at all the information," Koelsch said.

The chamber took up the issue at a meeting Thursday night, after a presentation from outgoing schools Superintendent Gary Bader and School Board member Bob Van Slyke, Scholz said.

City Architect Catherine Fritz echoed Koelsch after hearing about the chamber resolution, wondering if the group was aware of the city staff's research.

"I'm unfamiliar with the resolution that was passed but I hope the chamber has considered all of the issues," she said.

After a reviewing a high school plan in a work session scheduled for Jan. 22, the Assembly is expected on Jan. 27 to consider whether to pass it and schedule a special election or send it back to the school district for revisions.

Assembly member Marc Wheeler said the chamber resolution may carry some weight with Assembly members.

"The chamber is influential with a large part of the Assembly, but I think every Assembly member has to weigh the chamber with the opinion of everybody else in their community," Wheeler said.

"I think it will have an effect on the Assembly in that the chamber represents a lot of the property taxpayers in this community."

Julia O'Malley can be reached at jomalley@juneauempire.com.



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