Architects to JDHS: Let there be light

Posted: Friday, January 19, 2001

Someday students will enter Juneau-Douglas High School through a two-story, light-filled hall, eat cooked food in a larger commons, and attend classes in a school spruced up inside and out. They'll sling Frisbees on an adjacent lawn or turf that may be nearly the size of a soccer field.

The city and school district officials who are planning the renovation of JDHS decided this week on a design that livens up the commons.

"Lots of light coming in from the top and lots of open air inside," architect Rich Ritter said at a meeting of teachers and students earlier this month.

Minch Ritter Voelckers Architects of Juneau, consulting with Fanning and Howey Associates Architects, a national firm, is designing the proposed high school at Dimond Park and the JDHS renovations. Planners and architects had met with a larger planning group of teachers, citizens and students about their priorities for fixing up JDHS.

Voters in October approved a five-year extension of a 1 percent sales tax, from which about $4 million in revenues are slated to improve JDHS.

With those funds, architects plan to create a tall, wide hall leading from the entrance to the Egan Drive side of the school, with two-story glass walls at each end, windows near the roof and a large staircase at the Egan Drive side.

"The idea is when you come in on that strong axis you are able to go straight up or down to get where you want to go," said architect Paul Voelckers.

A second-story balcony and seating area would look over the commons. The commons would be enlarged by taking out the bathrooms and other small rooms at the west side. A kitchen would be placed near the commons, with a freight elevator that also would serve students with disabilities.

The auditorium would gain a larger foyer, which would buffer the hall from sound from the commons and gym. The library, which would include a multi-media production room, would be enlarged and would connect to the commons. The administration's offices would be moved next to the front doors for a stronger presence.

In addition, voters in October 1999 approved a bond for $13 million to fix up JDHS, as well as $50 million for a new high school. The sale of the nearly all of the bonds depends on getting partial state reimbursement, which the city is lobbying for this legislative session.

The $13 million is intended to pay for less flashy renovations, such as repairing and replacing outside wall panels and interior finishes, upgrading mechanical and electrical systems, and meeting handicap-accessible codes.

Schools Superintendent Gary Bader said he didn't anticipate any money would be spent to renovate JDHS until after the legislative session. It would be difficult and expensive to do the renovations funded by the sales tax separately from the renovations funded by the bonds, architect Ritter said.

Another question is what to do if lawmakers approve reimbursement for the JDHS project this year, but not for the new high school. The renovations at JDHS, which are designed for a school of 1,200 students, would reduce the overcrowded school by one regular classroom, two science rooms and one business classroom.

"If we have to do the (renovation) and wait for the new school, we might have to rethink that," Ritter said in an interview.

One option is for JDHS to use more rooms at the adjacent Marie Drake building, said Joe Mueller, the school district's facilities manager. The high school already uses some classrooms there.

Voters allowed up to $3 million of the bonds to be sold before getting any state funds. That money is going toward design work and to tear down an old state ferry building that was given to the city.

A school board committee has been looking at several ways to use the space for a playing field and parking. The possible playing fields, 170 feet wide, range from 205 feet to 310 feet long. All of the JDHS coaches and physical education teachers have asked for the largest possible field, said school activities director Sandi Wagner.

School district administrators have talked about making JDHS a closed campus, meaning students can't leave during the day, after a kitchen is installed. If that happens, "we've got to have some facilities for the kids to be on (site)," Wagner told the school board committee earlier this month. "We don't have a campus, we have a building."

But the smaller the field, the more parking spaces can be fitted in the area. Parking options range from about 45 to 60 spaces. School board member Stan Ridgeway said that won't add more parking because teachers and students already use the ferry building's lot.

The ferry building might be torn down this summer, said city architect Catherine Fritz. The city hasn't identified funds to put in parking and a field. The cost could range from $1 million to $2 million, she said.

Eric Fry can be reached at

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