Ordinance to block school introduced

Assembly members say they favor new school; ordinance would speed up decision to build

Posted: Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Juneau Assembly introduced an ordinance Monday similar to an initiative to block construction of a new high school, though members say their motives are different and they really back the school construction.

The purpose of the ordinance is to speed the process because they expect advocates of the initiative to garner the necessary signatures to put the measure on the ballot, Assembly members said before the meeting.

With a fast-tracked ballot measure, there would be enough time to solicit bids for site work for the new high school at Dimond Park in the Mendenhall Valley should voters support the school, members explained.

Assembly member Dan Peterson, who graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 2001, said a new school must be built because the current facility exceeds capacity.

"It's like trying to fight through a wall of humanity," he said of the hallways when students are changing classes.

The initiative's sponsors have said they want to hold the Juneau School Board to what voters were told in 1999, when they approved nearly $50 million in bonds for a second high school and $13 million to renovate JDHS. Voters in June 2003 added about $12.5 million in bonds for each project.

If advocates fail to secure the 2,408 signatures of registered voters by March 1, Assembly members say they are not likely to pass the ordinance.

City Clerk Laurie Sica has 10 days to certify the signatures after March 1, she said. If proponents are short the required number of signatures, they have another 10 days to reach that amount before Sica conducts final certification, she said.

If they have enough signatures, the Assembly has 45 days to pass an ordinance similar in language to the initiative. After 45 days, city code requires a special election within 60 days, Sica said.

The Assembly agreed to introduce an ordinance that would spend $5,000 to educate the public on the special election. The motion, offered by Randy Wanamaker, passed 7-2 with Mayor Bruce Botelho and Jeannie Johnson voting "no." Johnson said city staff could prepare nonpartisan voter information about the election.

If the Assembly waited to introduce the ordinance after signatures were certified, the process would take longer, Sica said.

Assembly members Merrill Sanford, Jim Powell and Marc Wheeler also said they introduced the ordinance to expedite the process. They really favor a new high school because they said it will alleviate overcrowding, improve the learning process and honor the wishes of voters who approved the school in 1999.

The ordinance says the Assembly will refrain from awarding bids for construction of the new high school until the existing high school has 2,100 students and the source of at least $1.67 million of the school's operating funds is identified. It also stipulates that the school be built to the scale voters were told it would be in 1999.

While Powell supports the new school, he does not want to exceed the amount voters approved, he said. The city is not stopping other projects including road construction, so neither should construction of the new school be halted, he said.

The Dimond Park school was to accommodate 1,200 students at first with common areas built to suit 1,500 students in case expansion is needed. Now the plan is to build a school with 1,070 students.

JDHS now has about 1,700 high school students, although not all of them attend the high school. Some attend an alternative school and others are educated in the juvenile justice system or group homes.

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