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City pays $200,000 to speed up construction of high school

Juneau agrees to pay company $500,000 more if deadline met

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2007

JUNEAU - The city of Juneau has agreed to pay Coogan Construction as much as $700,000 extra to finish Thunder Mountain High School on time, an incentive created in part because of a 60-day setback caused by bad weather.

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City and Juneau School District employees have known for months that construction at Thunder Mountain High School was behind schedule, but they didn't tell the School Board members about the delays.

"I have not been told that," Andi Story, School Board president, said.

School Board Member Margo Waring said Superintendent Peggy Cowan recently assured her the school would be completed on time. But, Waring said she remained unaware of the delays.

The importance of the School Board knowing the actual status is relative to their deciding if a contingency plan should be implemented, or if the school would open for 500 students next fall.

"The most important thing to do is figure out when to implement our contingency plan," Waring said. "We can't wait for the last minute, the cutoff time is critical."

The city recently agreed to pay Coogan Construction an additional $200,000 to help the company catch up. If Coogan reaches "substantial completion" by Aug. 1, it will receive $500,000 more, city engineering director Roger Healy said. The incentive drops to $375,000 if the goal is meet by Sept. 1, weeks after the normal start of school.

Bad weather last November and March are to blame for construction falling behind by 60 days, Healy said.

"We all admit last winter was tough. It affected the construction out there," he said. "Trying to define how far behind it is at this moment is very hard."

Completion incentives are common in privately financed construction projects, but Healy said they are uncommon in public projects. If construction goes too far beyond the deadline, Coogan begins to loose money, Healy said.

Cowan said there was no particular reason that the School Board was not informed.

Several members of the School Board attended a special tour of the $80 million school last month, but remained unaware of the delay.

"I have been reassured by everyone that the date is Aug 1," Cowan said. "Every time I ask I've been told the plan is to open on time."

Considering the coming winter and the forecasts of a colder and wetter winter than last year, the company building the high school could not say if construction would be far enough along next August to meet the planed opening expectations.

"I can't tell you at this point," Lloyd Coogan said. " We're dependent on the weather."

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Coogan's company has been working 10-hour shifts, six days a week for months hoping to catch up. Coogan said he would have a better grasp of construction progress after the New Year.

"There is an uncertainty going into this winter, there is an uncertainty in the labor force," Healy said.

In September, Healy sent a memo to city Manager Rod Swope explaining the "issue was outstanding, unresolved and needed resolution for the (city) to effectively communicate with the public and the School District regarding project expectations."

Cowan said a contingency plan was in development, but did not offer details of the plan.

Story said she was unaware of any contingency plan in development.

School Board Facilities Committee member Mark Choate only learned of the delays Tuesday.

"It surprised me," he said. "It seems strange that is wasn't brought to our attention."

Choate said the fact that the School Board president didn't know about the situation "indicates poor communication" on the district's part.

Choate seconded Waring's concern for realistic information on the status of construction at the school and said the need to make a decision about alternate plans should come sooner rather than later.

"My sense is we would make a decision fairly quickly," Choate said.

Making progress: The construction site of Thunder Mountain High School is shown Tuesday in Juneau.



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