Valley school wins go-ahead

Voters also approve $18 million in bonds for maintenance, repair of schools

Posted: Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Juneau changed its mind.

According to unofficial results from Tuesday's local election, 53 percent of Juneau voters favor a second high school - albeit a leaner version of the Dimond Park School they rejected in the May 25 special election.

Juneau voters also came out in favor of authorizing $18 million in bonds to repair and bring up to code many of the district schools.

The vote count Tuesday night on the scaled-back Dimond Park school was 4,195 in favor and 3,505 opposed. The vote count on the $18 million in repairs was 5,655 in favor and 2,002 opposed.

The final election results will not be certified until next week, and 1,534 votes (absentee ballots and ballots that need further review) have not been counted yet, but Juneau school board members and parents began rejoicing as the unofficial results from the last few precincts rolled in at 8:35 p.m.

The Lemon Creek precinct was the only one that voted against the new school, though the measure squeaked by with one vote in West Juneau, where results came down to 205-204.

"Yes, yes!" cheered Andy Peterson, a Floyd Dryden Middle School parent.

"I'm elated," said School Board President Mary Becker. "We've voted, voted and voted. Now it's time to build, build, build."

Juneau School District Superintendent Peggy Cowan said final plans for the Dimond Park school should be ready for review this time next year. The state of Alaska will pitch in 70 percent of the cost of building the school.

Cowan said the school district will begin holding meetings this fall for Juneau residents and teachers to discuss how best to use space and prioritize programs at both high schools.

Juneau-Douglas High School teacher Clay Good, who had reservations about the Dimond Park High School, said he wasn't surprised by the unofficial results.

"I expected it to pass and I didn't work to defeat it. The Juneau voters had heard plenty of information by the time this vote came up. People finally had a meaningful dialogue on the issue," he said, referring to the summer public meetings in which the School Board hashed out a new, smaller Dimond Park proposal.

Good said he feels it is "simplistic" to believe that the new school will eliminate the community's high dropout rate or other educational challenges at the current high school, but he said he is hopeful that it will help alleviate some problems. And he hopes school officials will be reminded by recent history that they need to plan carefully for the future.

Proposition 1 on Tuesday's ballot authorized $54 million in bonds to construct an 840-student school at Dimond Park in the Mendenhall Valley.

In a special May 25 election, Juneau voters blocked the school board from securing more than $62 million to build a larger version of the Dimond Park school.

The original Dimond Park school proposal had a student capacity of 1,080 and was 52,000 square feet larger than the current version of the school.

The new proposal costs $14.4 million less and individual taxpayers will pay 43 percent less per $100,000 property value than they would have under the previous proposal.

School Board members said Tuesday that Proposition 2, authorizing $18 million in bonds for school maintenance projects across the district, was a no-brainer.

"People who go by the schools can see that maintenance certainly needs to be done," Becker said.

Projects that will result from Proposition 2 include:

• Roof replacement for Harborview Elementary.

• A new gymnasium floor at Auke Bay Elementary.

• New exterior windows, exterior doors and interior floor coverings for Auke Bay, Gastineau and Glacier Valley elementary schools, and other facilities as needed.

• New light fixtures, new flooring and window replacement at the Marie Drake annex.

• Districtwide accessibility upgrades to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to school district officials, about $6 million would go toward other costs, such as design and the city's administration of the projects.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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