Schedule for Valley high school still undecided

Posted: Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Work on a new high school in the Mendenhall Valley could begin next summer, or it could be put off while voters consider updated cost estimates, according to various people planning the project.

The state Legislature passed a bill Sunday, linked to a statewide general obligation bond vote in November, that would reimburse 60 percent of the new school's debt.

That meets one provision of the 1999 local bond measure, restated in the 2001 election, which required that the state agree to reimburse at least half of the bond debt before the local bonds would be issued.

But it seems likely that the school will be a scaled-down version of what voters originally agreed to in fall 1999, while the costs may be greater, city and school district officials said.

The original budget for the school at Dimond Park was $49.9 million for a 1,200-student school, expandable to serve 1,500 students. The Juneau Assembly, in Monday's approval of a higher-than-expected bid to renovate Juneau-Douglas High School, drew from the new school's budget by about $1.6 million.

The team planning the two projects agreed in March to move forward with a design for a scaled-down Valley school, serving about 1,080 students. But even that project might cost more than the current budget, said John Stone, director of city engineering.

"That would almost indicate we'd need to go back to the voters," he said.

Paul Voelckers, one of the project's architects, said more precise cost estimates will be available by July. Estimates of labor costs are likely to rise because of a tight labor market, he said.

Some observers were concerned the proposed debt-reimbursement program wouldn't meet the local bond measure's requirement of 50 percent state reimbursement. The state Department of Education had approved only $39.9 million of the $49.9 million project for possible reimbursement because state officials anticipate lower future enrollments than does the school district.

But Eddy Jeans, director of school finance for the state, said the bill would reimburse the debt from the $49.9 million at 60 percent, or it would reimburse the debt from $39.9 million at 70 percent.

In fact, the bill would reimburse at 60 percent whatever the project's bonded costs are, he said.

"I think clearly, whatever it is, the Valley high school is in play again if the general obligation bond passes in November," said Juneau schools Superintendent Gary Bader.

If the planners can design a project within the budget, it could go out to bid in February 2003, Voelckers said. Construction could start in summer 2003 and be done by fall 2005.

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