Measure allows JDHS renovation to go forward

Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2001

Voters in the Oct. 2 city election will be asked whether they want to split their previous authorization to sell bonds for two school construction projects. A yes vote will let Juneau-Douglas High School renovation start in the upcoming summer.

In October 1999, voters authorized up to $62.9 million in general obligation bonds to fix up JDHS and to build and equip a new high school at Dimond Park, provided that the state reimburse at least half the bond debt for the projects. Fifty-five percent of voters that year approved the bonds.

Since then, the Legislature has authorized 70 percent reimbursement of the JDHS project, but it hasn't approved state funds for the new high school. The JDHS renovation was budgeted at nearly $13 million and the new school at $50 million. The state's offer doesn't come close to being half of the combined projects' cost, so the city can't sell bonds to fix up JDHS without changing the bond authorization.

The city isn't asking for more money in this year's ballot proposition, but it wants to be able to do the projects separately. The measure also stipulates that the bonds for the Dimond Park high school would be sold only if the Legislature authorizes reimbursement of at least 50 percent of that project's debt.

 

The debt from issuing $13 million in bonds, with 70 percent state reimbursement, would cost taxpayers about $15.40 per $100,000 of taxable property a year for 15 years, said city Finance Director Craig Duncan.

The ballot measure is "accomplishing everything the voters asked us to do when they passed the issue two years ago," said schools Superintendent Gary Bader. "The one thing that wasn't anticipated was funding coming at different times."

Chuck Cohen, a School Board member on the team of city and school officials planning the projects, said he supports the ballot measure just as he supported the 1999 proposition to sell the bonds. "I think we need the new school in the valley and a renovated JD High," he said.

If opposition to the bond measure emerges, it might be from people who don't want JDHS renovated before the new school is built, or those who think it costs too much. In the October 1999 election, some voters said the school didn't need that level of improvements.

Planners hoped to get both projects funded together. They expected to build the new school first and move in some students before fixing up JDHS, a task that will disrupt classes.

As it is, the planning team hasn't given up on the Dimond Park school. It authorized architects Minch Ritter Voelckers of Juneau to design it through what's called schematic design, a stage in which architects prepare a site design, floor plans, building sections and elevations, and cost estimates.

Cohen said he thinks the city should renovate JDHS now "because if you wait you lose value to inflation, and we're not 100 percent assured we're going to get funding for the new high school this (legislative) session."

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The project team hopes to start construction on the JDHS renovation as soon as this school year ends. The work might stretch from May 2002 to January 2004 at least, school Facilities Manager Joe Mueller has said.

In October 2000, voters added $4 million to the JDHS renovation from future sales tax revenues, making for a $17 million budget. The portion funded by sales tax revenues does not qualify for state reimbursement. Bader said one reason to renovate JDHS now is it's more efficient to do all the work funded by the bonds and the sales tax at one time.

Architects plan to create a two-story-tall, wide hall leading from the entrance to the Egan Drive side of the school, with glass walls at each end, windows near the roof and a large staircase near the Egan Drive side.

A second-story balcony and seating area will overlook part of the commons, which will be enlarged by taking out the bathrooms and other small rooms at the west side. A kitchen will be placed near the commons, with a freight elevator that also can serve students with disabilities.

The library, which will include a multi-media production room, will be enlarged and will connect to the commons. The administration's offices will be moved next to the front doors, for a stronger presence. The counselors' offices will be on the top floor.

Other renovations include repairing or replacing outside wall panels and interior finishes; upgrading electrical, mechanical, phone and computer infrastructure systems; and meeting handicap-accessible codes. The work is expected to add 15 to 20 years to the life of the building, which was first built in the mid-1950s and has been added to and renovated.

The new renovations, which are designed for a school of 1,200 students, will reduce the overcrowded school by one classroom, architect Paul Voelckers said. JDHS will use nearly all of the space in the adjacent Marie Drake building until a new high school is built.

The school district expects to reduce the enrollment in Harborview Elementary, which shares the Marie Drake building, so all of its students fit in the Harborview building.

The district might accomplish that by redrawing the school enrollment boundary and sending some Harborview students elsewhere, by reducing the number of students the school accepts from outside its current boundary, and by transferring some districtwide elementary programs housed at Marie Drake to other schools, Superintendent Bader said.

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Voters in 1999 let the city sell up to $3 million of the $62.9 million in bonds before getting state reimbursement, to plan and start the design of the two projects and tear down the former state ferry building next to JDHS and add that land to the school campus.

Because the city already has sold the first $3 million in bonds and is spending the proceeds, the new ballot measure refers to $13 million in bonds for JDHS and only $46.9 million in bonds for the Dimond Park high school.

That maximizes the state reimbursement for JDHS, but it doesn't short-change the Dimond Park school, city and school officials said.

Proceeds from the $13 million in bonds will cover any funds already spent from the $3 million on JDHS, city Finance Director Duncan said. And legislation that reimburses Juneau for the Dimond Park school likely would include work done before the legislation passed, such as design work, he said.

That's true as long as the work took place within three years of when the city applies for bond reimbursement, said Tim Mearig, an architect with the state Department of Education.

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Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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