Planners given reduced classroom recommendation

City official says steel prices are largely to blame for shortfall in funds

Posted: Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Planners for the new Mendenhall Valley high school should cut about 12 classrooms and a kitchen from the school budget to cover a projected $1.8 million funding shortfall, city officials recommended Tuesday.

City Engineering Director Roger Healy said high steel prices are largely to blame for the shortfall.

"I think that these are a very conservative approach that would be a safety net so that we can make sure that we have the high school even if the bids came in over," said school district Superintendent Peggy Cowan.

Some members of the planning group said they will explore alternatives other than cutting classrooms.

A recent estimate of the preparation costs came in $600,000 over projections released in September 2003. Construction costs came in $1.2 million over the September estimate. The total cost of the project is $62.6 million, 60 percent of which will be reimbursed by the state.

"In the construction industry, there is a dramatic increase in construction costs," Healy said in a memorandum to Cowan. "Part of the increase is attributable to steel costs, but other material, labor and fuel cost increases supplement the unprecedented uncertainty in construction costs."

He said the construction cost estimates have increased 4 percent within the last six months. Healy also warned about cost overruns for "mega-projects" of more than $25 million.

Removing the classrooms and concession kitchen would save about $2.8 million.

"If the bid came in within our target, then they would be finished," Cowan said. "If they didn't, they wouldn't. They would be built, but they wouldn't have anything inside of them."

Other options listed in the design staff recommendation include waiting to pave the high school parking lot, and building but not completing eight additional classrooms, an auditorium, an auxiliary gym or leaving an entire wing of the building out of the construction plans.

School Board President Mary Becker said the school board will look at other potential alternates to try to balance the budget.

"I think we need to balance the educational needs with the community needs," Becker said. "We need to balance both sides and if in fact we can do that by maybe shelling some of the classrooms, we will certainly consider all the options. But I think there are other options we can use."

Other alternatives could include waiting to pave the parking lot to the school, she said.

"That's the last thing you do at the very end, so that would be way at the end and perhaps we would know then that we have money left over and we could then pay," she said, adding that an unfinished parking lot would not hinder the educational process.

"If we put a good surface down, it won't cause any particular problems," she said.

Merrill Sanford, a Juneau Assembly member on the planning board, said he also plans to explore additional alternatives such as reducing the different areas of the budget rather than cutting classes.

"That's why we didn't want to vote on this today because we want to get all the input to us and then look at all the alternatives we have and then pick the best one, so we get the most bang for our buck," Sanford said. "Somehow we have to figure out how to work within the budget. And every time we put all this stuff off, more and more it adds a percentage, two or three percentage a year because of inflation."

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