Assembly looks at more money for Valley school

Without funds, high school project would have to be redesigned

Posted: Thursday, September 25, 2003

The Juneau Assembly on Oct. 13 will consider adding at least $1.628 million to the budget for the planned high school at Dimond Park in the Mendenhall Valley, Assembly members said Wednesday.

Seven of the nine Assembly members met as a Committee of the Whole on Wednesday afternoon. Dale Anderson and Jim Powell were absent, and Stan Ridgeway was present by telephone for part of the meeting.

In August, the team of city and school district officials who are planning the ongoing renovation of Juneau-Douglas High School and upcoming construction of a Valley high school recommended adding $2.1 million to the latter's construction budget.

Team members hoped about $1.7 million of that $2.1 million would come from bond proceeds intended for the Valley school that were loaned to the JDHS renovation when its construction bids came in high. The other $400,000 of the $2.1 million was to come from interest the city will earn from bond proceeds. Contractors are paid over time, not all at once.

The extra money was intended to bolster the project's construction contingency in case the low bid comes in higher than expected, or pay for changes that turn up during construction or pay for desired items that weren't included in the basic bid.

The cost of the construction itself hasn't gone up, schools Superintendent Peggy Cowan said after Wednesday's meeting.

A new estimate of construction costs, based on a more detailed level of design, was released at a school planning team meeting Tuesday. It came close to matching earlier estimates of $44.2 million, school district officials said.

Some Assembly members were concerned Wednesday that adding more money for the project would contradict an agreement with the school district, reached in January as further bonding was under discussion, to cap the Valley high school's budget at $60.8 million. That figure includes planning and designing the school, overseeing the construction and inspections, as well as the physical construction. The state is expected to reimburse 60 percent of the project's cost.

The school planning team has said it needs a quick decision on the extra money. Without the funds, the Valley school would need to be redesigned, and that would put off its scheduled opening in August 2006 by a year, said Merrill Sanford, a member of the Assembly and the school planning team.

"I feel very held hostage," said Mayor Sally Smith. "I feel that we worked very hard to come up with the $60.8 million agreement. ... That's what we took to the voters."

She said the Assembly would appear to be holding up the project or shortchanging students if it doesn't approve the extra funds.

But Assembly member Marc Wheeler said, "If there's a need for extra money now, I'd rather catch it now than later down the line."

Member Jeannie Johnson also was concerned that transferring funds from the JDHS renovation back to the Valley high school could shortchange the downtown school. City engineering director Roger Healy said the planning team has identified funding for further high-priority renovations at JDHS, except for some site work whose cost hasn't been set.

Deputy City Manager Donna Pierce said the Assembly also should discuss on Oct. 13 how to fund school-related improvements to Riverside Drive, a city road next to the Valley school site.

City engineers have thrown out very rough figures of $1.5 million to $3 million for improvements, such as turn lanes, a traffic light and underground utilities. The road improvements aren't included in the school's construction budget.

State Department of Education officials have said they prefer road work near new schools to be paid by a source other than school construction funds. Healy said in an interview that the state Transportation Department probably won't help to fund the Riverside Drive improvements either.

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