School repairs may cost more

Officials want extra $3.5 million

Posted: Thursday, June 22, 2000

City and school officials want to spend $3.5 million more to upgrade Juneau-Douglas High School than they asked for in a bond package last fall.

Addressing the frustration expressed by school district and city officials that the voter-approved $13 million isn't enough money to do what needs to be done, Juneau Assembly member Ken Koelsch is calling on all concerned for to-do lists and possible funding schemes.

At a Wednesday meeting of the assembly's Public Works and Facilities Committee, Chairman Koelsch heard architect Paul Voelckers and the school district facilities supervisor, Joe Mueller, describe projects with total price tags that -- including the $13 million already approved -- could reach $20 million.

``The 1984 (JDHS) renovation didn't work out as expected,'' said Koelsch, the assembly liaison to the school board and a former JDHS teacher. ``There isn't a true entrance to the school,'' he said, and the commons area, entry and administrative spaces need to be reconfigured.

Voelckers named the commons and entry work as one of two key projects that would benefit from additional funding. The other is providing off-site storage for the school district, which would free an area under the school for covered parking.

Converting the storage area to parking would help the school district fare better under a state formula that looks at how much space is available for Juneau high school students, and thus how much the state is willing to help pay for a new high school.

``The covered parking counts much less than storage space in the school total area inventory,'' Voelckers said. ``This translates directly to more state support for reimbursement.''

Voelckers cited district calculations of a likely state reimbursement increase of $1.2 million for the bond costs if the storage were removed.

The nearly $63 million in school bonds passed by Juneau voters in October 1999 provides $13 million for renovations to JDHS. The rest is slated for a new high school in Dimond Park. Both projects are contingent on receiving some state reimbursement.

Of the $13 million, $1 million is pledged for auditorium upgrade work, and up to $1 million to demolish the Alaska Marine Highway building next to JDHS. The rest of the money will go to general upgrades to exterior and interior finishes, code upgrades and basic upgrades to mechanical and electrical systems.

``The exterior skin and windows are junk,'' Voelckers said. ``And when you get through those priorities, you've used most or all of the $10 million or so available after design and administrative costs.''

At a recent assembly work session, Koelsch suggested that some proceeds from a proposed 1 percent sales tax -- possibly up for renewal on the fall ballot -- be appropriated for JDHS repairs and upgrades.

Revenues for the tax are aimed at paying for half of the Bartlett Regional Hospital expansion project, as well as a proposed $7.7 million school bond that would mostly upgrade some elementary schools and Floyd Dryden Middle School.

But according to city Finance Director Craig Duncan, the tax, during its five-year course, will generate $5.7 million more than is necessary for those two projects.

Of that surplus, assembly members have so far earmarked $1.1 million for an ice rink, $1.1 million for the school district storage building, and $3.5 million for JDHS renovations.

But that plan would receive no state financial support, which reimburses municipalities through its school debt reimbursement program only for bonded projects.

``People on the assembly are torn about that,'' said assembly member Jim Powell. ``There's no clear answer as to how you do the packaging.''

Voters could simply pass the sales tax and use part of the proceeds for school renovation, or vote for bonds that allow for some state reimbursement.

The problem, Powell said, is that the bond vehicle adds more complexity to an already complex ballot that may include at least one initiative, a 3 percent sales tax renewal proposal, the 1 percent sales tax, the $7.7 million school bond, a charter amendment and other measures.

``That's the challenge we have,'' Powell said. ``Many people don't decide until they see the ballot, and if the ballot is too complex, well...''

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