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Group pushes school bonds at Native forum

City election for school bonds set for June 3

Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2003

Supporters of two school bond propositions up for a vote in less than two weeks pressed their case "for great schools" at the Native Issues Forum at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall on Wednesday.

"We have a great opportunity to do this," said Sally Rue, former Juneau School Board president. "It will give us great schools at a relatively modest increased cost."

On June 3, voters will decide 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. Voters also will decide whether to issue $12.5 million in bonds to help pay for continuing the renovation of Juneau-Douglas High School.

Rue, Juneau Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jamie Parsons and Paul Voelckers of the firm Ritter, Voelckers Architects urged a yes vote on the two propositions.

Proposition 1 would provide an extra $12.6 million to the Dimond Park high school project for the construction of an auxiliary gym, a kitchen and extra classrooms. Parsons told the group the extra funding would help make the Valley school equivalent in size to JDHS and equivalent in terms of facilities to other high schools in the country.

"The goal of the community and the School Board was to have two equal schools with two equal programs," Parsons said. "The proposed (Valley) school only has one gym, every school in America has two."

Juneau voters in 1999 approved $50 million in bonds for a Valley high school and $13 million to fix up JDHS. Voters later added $4 million in sales tax revenues to the JDHS project. Since 1999, inflation and increased labor costs have driven the price of building the Valley school to $62 million, and the bids for the JDHS renovation came in higher than expected.

The city was able to cover the increased cost of the Valley high school because the state can now reimburse the city at a 10 percent higher level, so the impact of the increase on the taxpayer is negligible. Still, because the total cost of the project has increased, voters must approve the new bonding.

"It will cost taxpayers nothing more," Parsons said. "We are just kind of refinancing."

Proposition 2 would allow the city to leverage 70 percent state reimbursement, also at no extra cost to taxpayers. If the bond is funded fully by the state, the JDHS project budget would jump from $21 million to $26.7 million. The measure also would free $2.35 million in funding for other school projects, of which $1.7 million is restricted to JDHS or the new high school. The increased funding would buy parking and a new playing field at JDHS.

"It's sort of criminal that for all these years we had a school without a field and a track to run around on," Rue said.

Parsons said better schools would attract business to Juneau.

"Businesses are recruiting, and these people take one look at JDHS and say, 'This isn't satisfactory, I'm taking a job elsewhere,' " Parsons said.

Voelckers said the funding was needed to help the project move forward on time. The new high school has been projected to open in 2006.

"Juneau is going to have a school," he said. "We (the people looking at the designs) need to know if the money is going to be there for the extra gym and classrooms."

After the presentations, some listeners expressed reservations the two schools would not be equal.

"What is going to keep it from being an urban school with Natives and minorities downtown?" asked ANB Camp 2 President Andy Ebona.

School Superintendent Peggy Cowen said the district would make every effort to set up boundaries making the two schools' populations similar, with attention to class factors. The boundaries could be similar to those created for Floyd Dryden and Dzantik'i Heeni middle schools, which have a similar ethnic makeup, she said.

Catherine Thomas questioned the new school's rounded design.

"I really want to see the money go into programs," she said. "We don't have to have all this frivolous money for frou-frou artsy space."

Cowen responded that the design had been independently reviewed for cost-effectiveness.

"They looked at the plans and rechecked everything to make it more cost-effective," she said.

Richard Siverly, an 18-year-old high school senior, took the microphone in support of the propositions.

"Basically, it's way too crowded," he said. "We just need a new school and we need it quick."

Julia O'Malley can be reached at jomalley@juneauempire.com.



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