A new second school proposal, a new position

Posted: Sunday, October 03, 2004

In our staff editorial on this same page today, you'll notice that we've endorsed construction of a second high school at Dimond Park in the Mendenhall Valley, an issue that will be decided by Juneau voters on Tuesday.

Today's editorial is a switch from one in May in which we opined against a second high school. The difference now is that the proposal is considerably different from the one of four months ago, and it is one this community can and should support as it has on several occasions in years past.

Prior to the May high school vote - and in the time between then and now - we've received countless e-mails from supporters of the new school, most of which we've published either as letters to the editor or in the form of guest columns known as "My Turn." Several of the e-mails came from people who know more about the high school project and its infinite merits than we could ever share with the reading public, but they opted not to have them published.

What we've not received since May is much correspondence from those opposed to the second high school. In fact, I've heard very little, if any, opposition to the proposal for a smaller, less-costly school since the May referendum was very narrowly defeated. The opposition evidently took the summer off.

On the Sunday before the May election we offered an opinion that the second high school wasn't the right proposal at the right time or for the right reasons. Part of our thought process was that if that proposal really had been the right one for the students, parents and residents of Juneau, the election wouldn't have been as tightly contested.

Some supporters of the school thanked us for driving a stake through the heart of the project with our editorial. Others disagreed with us but understood our position.

This week we received a rambling diatribe from an e-mailer who enumerated, in 5,000 words or less, all the reasons for us to speak out in favor of the high school vote on Tuesday.

Backing the school issue in this election is a much easier decision because of the work that has been done since May. The important facts are that a new high school, in this form, will be a little smaller and will cost some $9 million less than previously proposed. And still looming large is the 70 percent cost reimbursement that will come from the state, an opportunity that disappears as of Dec. 31.

It's also important to note that renovation of the Marie Drake building, which had been proposed as a solution to overcrowding at the current high school, wasn't a real option because doing so would cost the city more than operating a second high school.

This proposal doesn't represent a perfect solution in a perfect world. It does, however, provide Juneau with the opportunity to better position itself for the future, assuming our future is to be built around progressive growth and development.

If the city is successful at diversifying its economic base, developing its waterfront properly, creating jobs, providing more affordable housing and building a new capitol - all of which it is working on - a second high school will more than be necessary.

For those reasons our editorial position has changed. We're backing the latest proposal because the school district has reshaped the project into one the community indicated it could and would support.

• Robert Hale is publisher of the Juneau Empire.

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