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Board wants new school on Oct. ballot

Board also recommends voters be asked to redirect $18 million in bonds sold to fund original school

Posted: Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Juneau School Board on Tuesday unanimously agreed to ask the Juneau Assembly to place bond measures on the October ballot to build a high school in the Mendenhall Valley and fix up the older elementary schools and other buildings.

The Assembly is scheduled to discuss the issues at a work session at 5 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

The School Board is recommending a 166,411-square-foot high school at Dimond Park that would accommodate about 840 students.

The board recommended that the school include a 250-seat auditorium, an auxiliary gym, a commons, a kitchen large enough to prepare meals districtwide and a small-engine shop.

City engineers have roughly estimated the cost at $54 million, including a parking lot. The state would reimburse 70 percent of the bond costs.

The latest proposal is smaller than the $63 million project voters struck down May 25. The previous proposed school was 220,000 square feet and designed to serve up to 1,080 students.

The School Board also recommended that voters be asked to redirect $18 million in bonds that were sold to fund the originally proposed high school at Dimond Park, but weren't spent because voters blocked the project. Those bonds, first approved in 1999, also would be state-reimbursed at 70 percent.

They would fund major maintenance projects at the four oldest elementary schools, the Marie Drake building next to Juneau-Douglas High School, and the district's central office, and upgrade access for disabled people districtwide.

The work includes such items as new windows, floor coverings and paint. Harborview Elementary would get new siding and a roof, as well.

Former School Board member Jeff Bush, who advocated for the Dimond Park high school in the May election, said he supports the new proposal. But he encouraged the board to keep its options open for expanding the school in the future. Bush also said he'd like to see an auditorium that seats more than 250.

Resident Brian Goettler said the district had a clear choice between renovating Marie Drake as part of JDHS and building a second school.

The district had compared estimates of construction and operating costs for those options.

Renovation would mean sinking a lot of money into Drake and ending up with an "old, tired building" that can't support the current student body, Goettler said.

"This community made a decision many times over to move on," he said. "If we miss this opportunity now, we will really regret it."

But Dave Hanna, an advocate of the Drake option, cautioned the board to be sure its projections of enrollment and state funding are accurate.

The district is counting on additional state funds generated by having two high schools to cover much of the operating costs of a new school.

There may be other bond measures on the ballot, Hanna said. If the district can't justify its figures, the bonds for a high school could be defeated, he said.

And Bush said he was "extremely concerned" that putting the maintenance projects on the October ballot could derail the high school measure. The average voter wouldn't understand that the maintenance funding would come from reappropriating existing funds, he said.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.



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