Ribbon cut at new high school

After a few finishing touches on building, classes set begin Sept. 2

Posted: Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The ribbon was cut Tuesday at Thunder Mountain High School, the new Mendenhall Valley school that has long divided Juneau over questions of a need for a second high school.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

School, city and state officials joined a couple of hundred parents and students for the ribbon cutting ceremony and tours of the new facility.

Classes are set to begin Tuesday at the new school, which is undergoing a few final touches.

"This is a long-awaited event," said former Juneau School Board President Mary Becker. "This school is hope for the future of Juneau."

City project architect Catherine Wilkins said the final price tag for the school was about $75 million. Earlier estimates had pegged the project at about $60 million.

Principal Patti Bippus said the school now has about 495 students registered. It will house ninth-, 10th- and 11th-grade students.

"We're in good shape," Bippus said.

The Juneau School District struggled earlier this year with how to split the student population between Thunder Mountain High School and Juneau-Douglas High School, which has long been Juneau's sole traditional high school. Most students who had a choice between the two schools choose JDHS.

Students and parents have expressed concerns there would be no general studies program available at Thunder Mountain High School. Instead, the new school will offer sophomores and juniors themed learning groups, called academies.

District officials have stressed the importance of smaller learning groups in high school education and have said the district needs to act in new ways to address some of Juneau's problems, such as a low graduation rate.

"I would like to thank this community, who had the foresight to say, 'We need to rethink secondary education in Juneau for our students,' and had the intelligence to start moving in that direction," Bippus said.

Juneau was divided about the need for a second high school before voters agreed to bonds to pay for the project in 1999. At that time, the school was projected to house 1,200 students.

A declining overall student enrollment led to further battles at the polls and a reduction in the school's size. Thunder Mountain High School has room for 838 students, with the ability to expand the school for 1,000, according to district officials.

High school junior Jenna Hyde said it's "really, really exciting" to be a part of Thunder Mountain High School's first graduating class. She said it is important to form a school identity through new traditions.

"I'm really glad I get to be in the class that does that," Hyde said.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or e-mail alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.

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