Atrium, commons at JDHS to be ready for Gold Medal

First phase of school renovation is a month behind schedule

Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2003

A new atrium and remodeled commons at Juneau-Douglas High School will be open by the end of March, just in time for the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament, city officials said Wednesday.

The first, most aggressive phase of a massive school renovation is about a month behind schedule because of the complex nature of the project, City Architect Catherine Fritz said. Nevertheless, the new commons and atrium will be ready for Gold Medal games March 23 to 29. The basketball tournament is scheduled during the district's spring break, so students will return to a building transformed, city project architect Gary Gillette said.

Juneau Assembly members got a peek inside the curved, airy atrium during a lunchtime tour Wednesday. About 70 people are working on the construction project.

"We've got the painters up here, we've got metal framers, sheet metal workers, plumbers, electricians, floor and ceiling tile setters, people are working on the windows," Gillette said, talking over a din of construction noise.

Work on the $21 million project started in June. The entire project should be complete Dec. 22, as earlier planned, Gillette said.

"The area that's blown out where the restrooms used to be will be the cafeteria," he said, pointing past newly tiled columns. "The commons can be set up for dining and beyond that will be the full commercial kitchen. We'll be able to serve the students lunches. More than Frito pies."

The gyms at JDHS have been open to students during this construction phase, with minor lighting improvements and painting planned. The commercial kitchen might not be entirely finished for Gold Medal because some equipment has not arrived, he said.

The first phase of the project also includes work on third-floor classrooms and the auditorium, which will be ready for an April performance of "Damn Yankees." After spring break, workers will concentrate on the new administration and counseling offices and the library, Gillette said. The project also includes new lockers, windows, an elevator and communication systems.

"On the far end of the atrium, it will all be glass that will look out toward the harbor and the mountains beyond," Gillette said. "A main stairwell will connect all three levels. The circulation in the building will be improved dramatically. People will be able to get around a lot easier, students and visitors."

After the tour, city staff members asked the Assembly's Public Works and Facilities Committee for $411,123, bringing the total project cost to $21.1 million. Most of the cost increase is tied to removal of hazardous asbestos, Fritz said. Staff members suggested covering the shortfall with leftover funds and interest from older district repair accounts.

"I'm optimistic this is it," Fritz said, referring to the funding request.

The committee also asked the city manager to work with the school district on other JDHS construction items that might be included in a June 3 bond election for a Mendenhall Valley high school. Deputy Mayor Ken Koelsch said he'd like to see if parking, entrance work and a sports field can be added downtown.

City, school district and state Department of Education staff also have been discussing the possibility of 60 percent state reimbursement for $4.1 million in sales tax funds already included in the JDHS budget, city Finance Director Craig Duncan said.

Meanwhile, 1,650 students and 130 staff members have been coping with the construction at JDHS. Some classrooms, offices and the lunchroom were moved to the Marie Drake building between Harborview Elementary and JDHS last fall. With the commons and other heavy construction zones off-limits, students walk outside to get to gym.

Junior Traci Ferguson, 16, said she is looking forward to the end of construction.

"There's a lot of noise and everything, so it's hard to believe that they're going to be done with all that after spring break," she said. "I was hoping they would do it after I graduated."

Senior Ryan Olson, 17, said the changes will be good for incoming freshmen.

"It's not a big deal to me, really. A lot of people think it's an inconvenience, but it hasn't given me any problems," he said. "It's going to be a lot nicer. The school is looking pretty beat. It's old."

Joanna Markell can be reached at

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