Planners finalize design details for new school

Posted: Monday, April 10, 2000

Group writes wish list for existing high school

Narrow halls and some windowless classrooms. A small, dimly lit commons and decrepit bathrooms. That's Juneau-Douglas High School now.

Planners deciding what will be in a proposed new high school have also turned their sights on JDHS, but they have a lot less money to play with.

A group of educators, students and community members, meeting last week at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, came up with a long wish list of improvements to JDHS.

Voters last fall approved bonds of about $50 million to build and equip a new high school at Dimond Park and $13 million to renovate JDHS. The projects are contingent on getting some state funding.

JDHS was built in 1956 and has been added onto four times. The renovations would add 30 years to its life, said Joe Mueller, the school district's maintenance and facilities supervisor.

It was free-form brainstorming at last week's meeting, and planners wanted light and space. They suggested an atrium entrance and skylights in the commons and library. They wanted lockers removed to widen the halls, larger classrooms, and windowless classrooms turned into locker rooms or lounges.

More books and more computers. A larger food court. Elimination of dead spots in the gym floor. Better outdoor lighting and more green space or a running track outside.

Anything else?

``Another new school,'' joked Dale Staley, the school district's technology coordinator.

``Because it's not fair to have the haves and the have nots,'' added JDHS teacher Chris Carte.

Some of the participants' requests, such as for a painted and spruced up interior, were already among needs identified in a building condition survey last year.

The city's request to the state Department of Education for partial funding of the project would pretty much use up the $13 million with roof repairs, new interior and exterior finishes, mechanical and electrical upgrades, and changes to meet updated building codes and access for people with disabilities.

But city architect Catherine Fritz said some of the participants' ideas that would change how the building flows and works could be done inexpensively.

``If we put serious work into (JDHS) it will look good, and so will the new high school,'' said JDHS senior Chris Thomas.

It's also clear that planning the educational specifications for a renovated JDHS will raise the question of vocational education. About 12,000 square feet of shop space isn't used now, and some planners asked for an expanded vocational program to fill it.

Consultant William DeJong of Dublin, Ohio, questioned whether the programs will train students for the jobs that exist. And facilities supervisor Mueller asked whether a 1,200-student school would need 12,000 square feet for voc ed.

Carte said she wants the school to meet the needs of students who aren't successful now by offering different learning styles and integrating academics with hands-on courses.

``Maybe reach some kids who think they don't have much of a reason to be in school,'' she said.

The educational specifications for the proposed new high school at Dimond Park are ready for the architects, who may be selected this month.

A group of educators, students and community members met last week at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School to put the finishing touches on what would be in the 195,000-square foot school intended for 1,200 students.

``I would say most designers are going to say, `We don't get this much information as you're giving us now,''' said consultant William DeJong of Dublin, Ohio.

Planners want clusters of classrooms surrounding open rooms, to suit team-teaching and group learning. The $50 million school would have a 600-seat auditorium, a gym that seats 1,500 to 2,000, fitness/weight and dance rooms, a library with a media production room, two art studios, applied technology and computer-assisted design labs, a fabrication shop, a food lab, and two business computer classrooms.

``I think it's going to be great,'' said eighth-grader Shannon Dore. ``I think it's very sad I'm not going to go there.''

The school could be occupied by fall 2004 if state funding is forthcoming this year or next year, said city architect Catherine Fritz.

There are still unresolved issues, particularly whether the campus will be open or closed, meaning whether students are free to come and go at lunch and when they don't have classes.

A closed campus would need a commercial kitchen and perhaps a food court, plus a large cafeteria. No decision has been made yet on food services, said Marysia Ochej, the school district's administrative services director.

The specs currently assume a closed campus and provide a 10,000-square-foot commons, twice the size of the one at Juneau-Douglas High School.

Some were concerned a large commons would take away from other educational needs, such as classroom size or the auditorium.

``We're not losing anything,'' DeJong told them.

The commons wouldn't be much smaller even in an open-campus plan, DeJong said. And if the commons is sized for a closed campus, the school can still have an open campus.

Some participants opposed a closed campus on principle. Schools are trying to develop students for independence and the world, said JDHS teacher Clay Good. ``We're not going to do it by locking them down.''

The issue also affects the school's operating budget. JDHS librarian Linda Thibodeau asked whether the school would offer enough classes so all students could have a full schedule.

At JDHS, an open campus, there aren't enough teachers to offer a full load of classes to all students. That's one reason it's an open campus.

Other people at the meeting, who live near Dimond Park, said they want the campus closed so students won't disrupt the neighborhood.

Other unresolved issues include whether to have an indoor running track and a child-care center. DeJong said designers would try to find an affordable location for the track.

A proposed 500-square-foot child-care center was too small to meet state requirements, meeting attendants said. Either drop it or increase it, they said. ``Grow or go,'' DeJong said. ``If it's going to be there, it has to grow.''

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