How the new Mendenhall Valley high school got to this point

Posted: Friday, May 21, 2004

Voters first approved a new Mendenhall Valley high school, then to cost $50 million, as a package with $13 million in renovations at Juneau-Douglas High School.

The sale of all but $3 million (for planning and design) of local bonds was contingent on getting at least 50 percent reimbursement from the state. The "yes" vote was 55 percent.

The delay has been caused largely by waiting for the state to authorize reimbursement and then bringing the design to the stage of construction documents.

If voters reject the May 25 ballot measure, the city would go out to bid this summer and hope to complete the school by fall 2006.

In 1999, the state Department of Education ranked school construction projects by need, and the Dimond Park high school didn't rate high on a statewide list.

Meanwhile, the state was more generous in approving renovation projects, so JDHS was fixed up before the new school was built. Voters in the fall of 2001 agreed to split the project so the JDHS work could be done.

Then, in May 2002, the Alaska Legislature opened a window of opportunity for cities to build schools without getting on a waiting list. Juneau's legislative delegation, in a letter to the public this month supporting the new school, said the opportunity may not come around again for many years.

Cities can get 60 percent reimbursement for any size school or 70 percent reimbursement for a school sized to match state projections of needed space in the near future. Projects must be approved by the state Department of Education by Dec. 31 this year.

In June 2003, in separate ballot measures, voters added $12.6 million for the Dimond Park school and $12.5 million for further work at JDHS.

The Dimond Park high school is designed as a 227,000-square-foot, two-story building that can accommodate 1,080 students when it opens. The school includes a library, commons and gym for up to 1,500 students. If enrollment grows, classrooms could be added.

The project is approved for 60 percent reimbursement. The total principal of nearly $63 million likely will carry interest of about $30 million, said city Finance Director Craig Duncan. Construction alone is budgeted at about $44 million.

Property taxpayers are paying $14 in taxes per $100,000 of taxable property this year for Dimond Park school bonds already sold, Duncan said.

If the project goes through, the rate would peak at $84 per $100,000 of taxable property in 2006 and then decline through the bonds' 15-year term, he said. Meanwhile, other city debt would be coming off the books. Because of that, taxpayers might not see an increase in their tax levy, Duncan said.

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