Posted: Wednesday, April 26, 2000

In 1993, then-Gov. Walter Hickel killed funding for a classroom addition at the University of Alaska Southeast's Auke Bay campus.

As of today, the state House was a step away from approving spending $7.6 million for 16 new classrooms at the Juneau campus. That project was included in an amendment to the House version of a bond package that added $31 million to the bill, which now tops $300 million for rural and urban schools, university projects, and ports and harbors around the state.

On Tuesday, the additional spending was approved unanimously by the House after Rep. Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican, amended House Bill 281 on the floor.

The House bond package Tuesday also includes $18 million for school improvements in Noorvik, in northwest Alaska, and harbor improvements in Sitka.

UAS Chancellor John Pugh said half of the classrooms at the Auke Lake campus are modular, temporary structures. There is a shortage of large classrooms and of decent ventilation. During the winter, it's cold in class. In the summer, Pugh said, the modular buildings smell ``like locker rooms.''

The University of Alaska Board of Regents first put the classroom addition - which includes a 150-seat lecture hall - on its list of needs in 1992. It would be a wing on the Egan Library. Bidding and construction documents were finished five years ago and the classrooms could be ready in two years or so, Pugh said.

Rep. Bill Hudson, a Juneau Republican, said he asked the GOP caucus to include the project in the amendment after an effort by House Democrats to include the classrooms was shot down.

``It's really needed out there,'' said Hudson. ``They have had the drawings prepared for years.''

Jim Duncan, who retired in 1998 after a 20-year legislative career, said the classrooms have been a Juneau agenda item for a decade. ``There have been several years of struggle and debate over this issue,'' he said.

The House's version of a bond package relies on selling bonds backed by expected millions from the state's settlement of a lawsuit with tobacco companies. The new spending added would come from Alaska Housing and Finance Corp. bonds.

The Senate's proposal would pay for more, about $440 million in projects, and would require a vote by Alaskans. The bonds in that proposal would be backed by money set aside in a sub-account of the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

Sen. John Torgerson, a Kasilof Republican, said he's got attorneys' opinions on the House's funding approach that raise a question as to its legality. House members met behind closed doors this morning to address the issue, but didn't have much to say afterward.

Rep. Gail Phillips, a Homer Republican, said the House and Senate will likely leave town with a school construction package approved.

Jim Baldwin, an assistant attorney general, wrote one of the legal opinions on the House spending plan. It looked legal to him. He said Gov. Tony Knowles is less concerned about the kind of bonds that are used than about getting broken schools fixed and new ones built.

``I don't think the administration cares how the rural schools are funded,'' Baldwin said. ``We just want to get them funded.''

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