Budget writers in the state House have agreed to partially fund renovation of Juneau-Douglas High School and steer some money toward a local university project. However, the schools had hoped for more.
A bonds bill approved by the House Finance Committee this morning would appropriate $7 million toward fixing up JDHS - $2 million shy of the $9 million Juneau sought. Voters in 1999 approved $63 million in bonds to build a new high school and fix up JDHS, contingent on partial reimbursement by the state. The JDHS project was budgeted at $13 million.
The University of Alaska Southeast wanted $2.5 million to finish a new classroom wing near the Egan Library, but the bill falls $500,000 short.
The measure needs approval by the full House and Senate, and Rep. Bill Hudson of Juneau hasn't given up on fully funding the JDHS and UAS projects before the session ends May 8.
"I was disappointed because I thought it was sort of an arbitrary cutoff and have so indicated to the finance leadership," said Hudson, a Republican in the majority who serves on the committee. "My understanding is that the issue is still alive."
But if the numbers stand, Hudson said there's a good chance he can nail down the rest of the money next year - at least for JDHS - plus some funds for a new high school in the Mendenhall Valley.
"I can say with relative confidence there will be a bond package put together next year that will very likely include the new high school and - I feel confident - the second half of the downtown high school renovation," Hudson said.
Hudson noted partial funding would allow the high school to start the renovation this year, but Juneau School District Superintendent Gary Bader was uncertain whether the project could be done in phases.
"This is ready for full construction. We'll just have to assess our options and see if it makes sense to start this and complete it later. I'm not prepared to say we can do that," Bader said.
School board member Chuck Cohen said he'd rather postpone the renovation until the city has the entire $9 million in state funds.
"It's got to be done all at once," said Cohen, chairman of the school board's Facilities Committee. Cohen emphasized he was speaking only for himself, not the board.
City Manager Dave Palmer said the city would go back to the voters for approval to renovate JDHS separately if both high school projects don't get some state reimbursement. The ballot language in October 1999 refers to selling $63 million in bonds if the projects -using the plural - qualify for at least 50 percent state reimbursement.
UAS Chancellor John Pugh wanted $2.5 million for the second phase of a new 22,000-square-foot classroom building, which broke ground last month. Pugh said the university might leave some classrooms unfinished or eliminate some furnishings to make up for the missing $500,000.
"We're happy to get $2 million. We have some real concerns about being cut 500 000," Pugh said. "Not having the $2.5 million will mean significant compromises."
The bill originally had no state dollars for local schools but included $7.1 million for harbor projects in Douglas, North Douglas and by the Taku River. Hudson instead steered the harbors money toward the JDHS appropriation, saying it was a higher priority.
"I feel strongly that's probably the most important single element of capital needs that we have here in our district," Hudson said. "I'll go for the ports and harbors next year."
The measure would appropriate $127 million statewide for schools, ports, harbors and the University of Alaska. The projects would be funded through revenue bonds repaid by money from the state's settlement of a lawsuit with the tobacco industry.
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