Marie Drake preschool wins 1-year reprieve

Board decides to delay preschool move that would have made room for high schoolers

Posted: Wednesday, June 20, 2001

A preschool at the Marie Drake building that includes special-needs students likely will stay there in the upcoming school year. But that means Juneau-Douglas High School probably will be a bit more crowded.

The Juneau School Board, after hearing from concerned preschool parents at its meeting Tuesday, split 3-3 to move the preschool to Gastineau Elementary this fall, to make room for high school students at Marie Drake.

Marie Drake, a former middle school building, sits between Harborview Elementary and JDHS and is used by both schools.

School Superintendent Gary Bader and the School Board's Facilities Committee wanted to move the preschool because construction of a wheelchair ramp at JDHS this fall will eliminate a classroom for the first semester. The high school also needs to find an additional classroom for special education students because of an unusually large number of those students in the incoming freshman class.

School Board members Mary Becker, Chuck Cohen and Alan Schorr voted to move the preschool. Cohen, chairman of the Facilities Committee, said the staff couldn't come up with an alternative for this fall.

Deana Darnall, Carolyn Spalding and Stan Ridgeway voted against the proposal. Dan Peterson did not attend the meeting.

"I don't feel that there's the urgency to do it this year," Spalding said. "I feel there is space. The process really bothers me."

Ridgeway, who said he voted against the move only because he wanted more time to explore other ways to accommodate the high school students, said he might ask the board to reconsider the issue.

Bader said he and JDHS Principal Deb Morse already have looked for extra space at the high school and Marie Drake.

"We have spent a lot of energy on this proposal," Bader said after the School Board's vote. "It's been before the board and it's failed. I'm prepared to say we'll cram them a little more" at the high school.

It was the preschool parents who spoke Tuesday. The program serves about 16 children with special needs and 16 other children.

Parents said the school district hadn't told them of the proposed move when they enrolled their children in April for next school year.

"My concern is not being up front with us that you needed the space," parent Carolyn Morehouse told the School Board.

Some parents walk their children to Marie Drake. Others said the drive to Gastineau, on Douglas Island, wouldn't fit their work schedules. Now it's too late for them to find a more convenient preschool, they said.

Jodi Gordon, mother of an autistic son who attended the preschool last school year, said changes are difficult for autistic children.

"It's not so much an inconvenience. We're talking about kids who have a very hard time transitioning," she told the School Board.

The school district didn't know in April that it would need the space in Marie Drake, Ridgeway said.

School and city officials who are planning a new high school in the valley and a renovation of JDHS assumed they would build the new school first. But the Legislature so far has funded only the JDHS renovation. The first step will be a wheelchair ramp and some other modifications this year.

The reprieve for the preschool is likely to last only a year.

If voters approve it, the main renovation at JDHS would start in the summer of 2002 and stretch into 2004. The high school will need to use nearly all of Marie Drake during construction and until a new high school is built. It will mean displacing the preschool, a Montessori program, and a computer lab, music room and classroom now used by Harborview Elementary.

The School Board has said it will look into whether the enrollment boundaries for elementary schools need to be revised, partly so that Harborview's enrollment can be reduced.

Eric Fry can be reached at

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