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School secures funds; timeline still uncertain

Final project costs for completion of track, auditorium not known

Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2007

Whatever voters believed about a certain completion of Thunder Mountain High School before going to the polls last week, two things are certain. The actual price tags for the completion of the auditorium and the construction of the track and field are unknown, and it's uncertain when they will be ready.

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"It's up to the market," said Roger Healy, the city engineering director in charge of the projects.

Due to the design and bidding process, one year could pass before project costs are known for the track and the auditorium.

"We know from the past that you can't say 100 percent," said Juneau Superintendent Peggy Cowan.

Healy said the city lost the opportunity to have a completed track and field when the school opens by not having the election earlier.

Nevertheless, many Juneau residents were expecting the track to open when the $60 million school does.

Mary Becker, school board member and TMHS project team member, said she thought the track, if funded, would be complete when the school opened.

"It was my expectation," Becker said.

The city's voter pamphlet explaining the benefit of Proposition 2 to voters claimed that, if passed, the track would be built at the same time as the school and in the process save money. The city said "there would be some administrative efficiencies associated with folding this project into the ongoing construction at the school site."

Depending on numerous variables, the track could open more than a year after the school. Healy said bids might go out in March of 2008 because of the design process.

Cowan said that the city couldn't seek bids for either project before the bonds gained voter approval.

Though the previously accepted $2 million bid for finishing the auditorium has expired, Healy said the project could be added onto the current contract. No bid would be required.

Becker said she thought the auditorium would be completed with the school by using the "additive alternate" method.

Cowan said the district and city know from the last time bids were sought on TMHS that materials and time are going to cost more if for no other reason than inflation.

If the price comes back for either project above the bond money based on accepted engineer estimates, components of the auditorium and track would be removed rather than more money sought.

"These are much better estimates than in 2004," Cowan said.

Healy said there was little doubt that the new price tag would be more than the 2004 number of $2.1 million

Regardless of inflated prices, timelines, and contractors, Healy said the city would not ask voters for another penny. Whether they're completed with the school or the summer after, Mendenhall Valley will get some form of auditorium for $3 million, and a track and field for $5 million.

"There is no more money," Healy said. " We will have a functional auditorium at that price."

Bill Peters, president of the School Board and TMHS project team member, encouraged voters to pass the bonds on several cost saving reasons. He presented the 70 percent return on $17 million from the state matching grants, and Peters pushed the idea that auditorium would be finished while construction was underway. Money would be saved by having the construction team currently on site do the job.

"That was my understanding," Becker said. "We went to the voters with the best knowledge we had."

Until the city enters negotiations with Coogan Construction, no one knows the price tag, or the project timeline. Additionally none in the city or school district can say who will finish the auditorium. Healy said the discussion would begin shortly.

It is possible that Coogan might pass on the offer to finish out the auditorium. At the same time the firm could offer a price higher than the city will pay. In either case, Healy said the city would have to begin the bidding process again.

It is also possible, Becker said, that the contractor would do the job for the money on hand, and in a time frame the city can accept. She said, "It comes down to faith and trust."

• Greg Skinner can be reached at 523-2258, or greg.skinner@juneauempire.com



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