Rejecting additional school funding hurts only ourselves

Letter to the editor

Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2007

If you wish to save taxes or "punish" our Juneau Assembly, city and new high school supporters by not approving the bond measures at the June special election, recognize you'll be hurting yourself. Understand the following, inconsistently reported in the news: Our students need more space.

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One-thousand-seven-hundred students attend Juneau-Douglas High School, designed for 1,150. A vocal minority stopped construction in 2004 and forced a 25 percent building area reduction. Juneau once again approved funding. Then disaster struck: hurricanes, a tsunami, wars and massive development in China. Cost of fuel and construction materials increased 20 to 40 percent in one year. This was the year the delayed high school was bid. The low bid, without a finished auditorium, came in $8 million over the prior year construction budget.

The next bidder was $19 million over! Our Assembly, recognizing the importance of this building and the need to quickly stem rising costs, made $7.5 million available from tax reserves to award the project without the auditorium. Now you are asked to approve the $7.5 million and funds to complete the auditorium and track.

Approval will gain 70 percent state reimbursement for these funds. Rejecting the funds does not mean they will not be spent. The tax reserves will be spent and the community will still need to raise money for the auditorium and fields, but Juneau taxpayers will bear 100 percent of cost instead of only 30 percent. My calculations in round numbers: The bid for the school was $47 million. Juneau will pay $14.1 million of that. The 500-seat auditorium is $3 million; Juneau will pay $1 million. The track and field are $5 million. Only $1.5 million from Juneau. $16.6 million is a bargain for a high school that will serve Juneau for the next century.

Further, though misrepresented in the news media, the school construction is being well-managed, with no cost overruns to date. The real cost overruns to this project were created by those who promoted the rejection of the first new high school project. This cost Juneau taxpayers at least $7 million in nonstate-reimbursable expenses, a missed construction season in which prices skyrocketed, and valuable education space. Look past "punishment" - this school is under construction. Don't cost yourself more by loosing the 70 percent reimbursement for the rest of this project. Approve the funds necessary to complete Thunder Mountain.

Sean Boily


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