Ballot measure would authorize borrowing $400 million

Proposal would include money for new Library, Archives and Museum Building in Juneau

Posted: Friday, October 22, 2010

The small city of Sitka has two public pools now, but if voters approve a nearly $400 million bond package Nov. 2 they'll be getting a third. That's more than any other city of its size, and with only about 50 public pools in the state, it's about the highest per capita pool availability anywhere.

Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire

The proposed $20 million pool at the state's Mount Edgecumbe High School is needed by the boarding school's students who often need to learn to swim, said Superintendent Randy Hawk.

"Many of our kids come from settings where there is not access to a pool, and some may not know how to swim," Hawk said. "That's a big plus for us."

Swimming and physical education classes now have to be held at the neighboring Sitka School District's Blatchley Pool, he said.

"Currently our kids have to go over to Sitka side and share a pool there, with everybody fighting for pool time there," he said.

The city's other pool, he pointed out, is leased by the city from the bankrupt Sheldon Jackson College and may soon no longer be available.

The pool is just one of 13 projects voters will be asked to decide are justified in a Nov. 2 ballot measure. That measure, referred by the Legislature, would approve borrowing $397.2 million. All the projects are in some way education related, and spread throughout the state.

That includes three long-sought school projects in western Alaska, University of Alaska facilities in Fairbanks, Anchorage, Mat-Su, Kenai and elsewhere, and $18.5 million towards a new state Library, Archives and Museum, or LAM, building in Juneau.

Borrowing the money, likely to be paid back at the cost of about $30 million a year over 20 years raised some concerns among some legislators. The measure was placed on the ballot after legislators couldn't agree on the spending, but were willing to borrow for the projects if they were approved by the voters, said Rep. Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau, who supports the measure.

"There wasn't enough support to get some of them through the normal budget process," she said.

The LAM project is important to both Juneau and the state, she said.

"The building will be a tremendous asset, not only to the community of Juneau but also the state of Alaska," Munoz said.

State Museum Curator Bob Banghart said the new project will provide the state with new archives and museum buildings, both now separately located in deteriorating buildings. It will also include the state library, now located in the newer State Office Building.

The staff in those divisions are particularly excited about the possibilities that working more closely together could provide for the state, he said.

"There's a movement, if you could call it that, of bringing collection management under one house to see if there are efficiency gains and some cross-pollination of ideas as well," he said.

The bond package would provide about $18.5 million towards the cost of the total project which will take additional appropriations after the final design is done, Banghart said.

"That hasn't been dialed-in yet, but we're looking at upwards of $100 million," he said.

Architects and project managers are expecting to have schematics for the Legislature to view in February, but Banghart said no proposal for further funding has yet been made.

The LAM project was included as part of a compilation of projects from around the state, that included three new schools at the cost of tens of millions each.

Rural legislators from communities in need of new or bigger schools have been distressed for years that they haven't been able to win funding for them, while the legislature continues to reimburse wealthier cities for school projects.

The three schools, in the Lower Yukon and Lower Kuskokwim districts don't have tax bases to enable them to obtain state reimbursement, such as Juneau has done with Thunder Mountain High School and other projects.

House Finance Committee Co-chairman Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, said the state has a "moral imperative" to fund its rural schools, but the bond issue would also help address the concerns in the long-running Kasayulie lawsuit questioning the fairness of school funding.

Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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