Voters: Renovate high school

Residents OK splitting bonds so repairs can move ahead

Posted: Wednesday, October 03, 2001

By a nearly 7-1 margin, voters on Tuesday agreed to let the city sell bonds to renovate Juneau-Douglas High School.

"Get out the hammer," said schools Superintendent Gary Bader after seeing the voting results Tuesday night at the high school commons.

Unofficial results, counting all 19 precincts and many of the absentee ballots, showed 4,928 voters, or nearly 87 percent, favored the proposition and 746 voters opposed. The margin of victory was greater in the downtown districts than in the Mendenhall Valley, but it was overwhelming everywhere.

"The money's there. We need to get the high school worked on," said downtown resident Louanne Christian, who voted for the bond authorization, the only proposition on the ballot.

Dan Cashen also voted for the proposition at a downtown church, but he wasn't sure if the renovations would provide the room the overcrowded school needs.

"I don't know if I like the way they're spending the money down there on the school itself," he said. "I know it needs it. It might be more than is necessary. I'm hoping that's all being spent in a good way there."

The renovation project isn't intended to alleviate overcrowding. A new high school at Dimond Park, allowing for smaller enrollments at JDHS, was the plan.

In October 1999, voters authorized up to $62.9 million in general obligation bonds to fix up JDHS and to build and equip the new valley high school, provided the state reimburse at least half the bond debt for the combined projects.

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 didn't come close to being half of the combined projects' cost, so the city couldn't sell bonds to fix up JDHS without changing the bond authorization.

The vote Tuesday split the authorization for the two projects and allowed the city to sell up to $13 million in bonds for JDHS. The measure also stipulates bonds for the Dimond Park high school will 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 of the principal and interest, would cost taxpayers about $15.40 per $100,000 of taxable property a year for 15 years, the city has said.

The construction work might stretch from May 2002 to January 2004 at least, school officials have said.

In October 2000, voters added $4 million to the JDHS project from future sales tax revenues, making for a $17 million budget. The portion funded by sales tax revenues does not qualify for state reimbursement.

The project includes a spacious entrance, a kitchen and a bigger commons and library. It also will replace outside wall panels and interior finishes; upgrade electrical, mechanical, phone and computer-infrastructure systems; and meet handicap-accessible codes.

The work is expected to add 15 to 20 years to the life of the building, which was built in the mid-1950s and has been added to and renovated.

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



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