Group lobbies for school bonds

School Board tells what the money for JDHS is likely to be spent on

Posted: Wednesday, April 30, 2003

A group has formed to support passage of two school bond measures in Juneau.

Voters will decide in a special election June 3 whether the city should issue $12.6 million in bonds to pay for part of the planned high school at Dimond Park in the Mendenhall Valley. And voters will decide whether to issue $12.5 million in bonds to help pay for continuing the renovation of Juneau-Douglas High School and possibly other schools.

Finish the Job: Yes for High Schools filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission as an advocacy group and held its first meeting last week, organizers said.

The group may raise funds to print a brochure about the bonds, said Jamie Parsons, a former Juneau mayor who co-chairs the group. Members also expect a lot of face-to-face meetings with voters.

A lot of their work may be explaining what the bonds are for. The projects have been discussed for years, and voters may be confused about where the work stands.

"We find that some people don't realize we have already voted for a new high school," Parsons said. "We're just saying it's time to finish both and move on."

Juneau voters in 1999 approved $50 million in bonds for a Valley high school and $13 million to fix up JDHS, contingent on getting some state reimbursement. Voters later added $4 million in sales tax revenues to the JDHS project.

Two years ago, the Legislature approved reimbursement for the bonded part of the JDHS funding, but only last year did it agree to appropriate reimbursement for a new school in the Valley. Since 1999, inflation has added to the cost of building the Valley school, and bids for the JDHS work came in higher than expected. The JDHS project, with construction beginning this school year, now costs about $21 million, which the city has funded through various sources.

The June 3 election would allow the Valley high school to accommodate about 1,050 students, rather than about 800, and would include an auxiliary gym and a commercial-size kitchen.

The bonds for JDHS on the June 3 ballot would allow the city to replace some of the project's nonreimbursable funding with bond proceeds, which are eligible for state reimbursement. The bonds also would allow additional improvements at JDHS and perhaps at other schools.

The Juneau School Board's Facilities Committee said Tuesday that added money could pay for such work as a 170-by-300-foot artificial-turf playing field in front of the school, improvements to the parking lot in front of the school's entrance, additional roof repairs, replacing lockers in the locker rooms, replacing the main gym's floor, a camera security system, and more furniture and equipment, among other items.

School district officials haven't come up with a firm price for some of the possible work. A joint committee of school district and city officials is responsible for planning the high school projects, and the Juneau Assembly retains the authority to approve all contracts for work on the schools.

Parsons, executive director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, said he hears from companies that don't want to locate here, and from parents who send their children out of town for high school, because JDHS is overcrowded.

Sally Rue, a former School Board president who co-chairs the advocacy group, said it will have to explain the different ways the two bond issues would be funded. The Juneau Assembly has said it intends for the JDHS bonds to be repaid by sales tax revenues, rather than the usual property taxes.

"A large part of our job is to figure out how to explain so people can say, 'I've got it now,' " Rue said.

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