Auditorium in limbo as school costs creep up

Budget about $1 million short of what new valley school is estimated to cost

Posted: Friday, December 09, 2005

Clarification 12/9/2005: Phases of auditorium construction

for the future Dimond Park high school will be the only alternates

considered when contractors bids are opened in the spring. A story

in Fridays Empire, as well as a Sunday editorial, listed other facets

of the schools construction that would be bid on as possible extras beyond

the basic building specifications. Those items were considered as alternates,

but the team planning the future high school ultimately decided to list only

phases of auditorium construction as alternates on bid specifications that

will be advertised in February.

Rising construction costs have raised questions about when and how the Juneau School District can build an auditorium for its new high school.

"I want to make sure I have a building first," School Board member Julie Morris said at a Thursday meeting, where the project team for the Dimond Park high school decided to label the auditorium as an option when construction goes out to bid early next year.

The Juneau School District plans to build an auditorium, Superintendent Peggy Cowan said. The base bids that contractors will submit for the project will include digging the orchestra pit, she said. But realities of inflation, driven in part by rising energy costs, could lead some elements of the high school to be built later, she explained.

A memo sent from City Engineer Roger Healy to the project team Thursday targeted the cost of the high school, scheduled to open in the fall of 2008, at $38.13 million.

Cowan said that budget is about $1 million short of what the designed school is estimated to cost.

But she added that part of the additional money recently identified for the project was $1 million from recent reconstruction of Floyd Dryden Middle School when that project cost less than expected.

The district plans to advertise for bids in January and is looking to award bids in April, according to the schedule discussed at Thursday's meeting. The specifications will describe basic construction in addition to alternate items in case of cost overruns.

Those alternates, projected to cost about $2.2 million, include a full kitchen, a fitness room, a choir or band room, a room for instruction of three-dimensional art, one of the five planned computer rooms and the auditorium.

The full auditorium is planned to have removable seats so that it could be used for classroom space or for school dances, Cowan said.

If the alternates are not approved in the project, contractors would leave spaces for them.

The specifications include five alternates addressing construction of the auditorium. The first two would make it acceptable as a low-level performance venue. The third would add formal seating. The fourth and fifth would provide the final touches, including lighting, stage rigging and the sound system.

"All of these things are on the hope list and are still in design," said project manager Sarah Lewis.

Deputy City Manager Donna Pierce said including alternates with the base bid would be "the safest and most conservative approach." Without breaking alternates from the basic project, she sees a risk of the bids to build the school coming in at more than the city can afford to pay.

"Right now we're just guessing," said team member and Juneau Assembly member Merle Sanford. "We're not going to know until we open those bids."

But the team heard Thursday from a few people who wanted to make it clear members should consider the auditorium a priority.

From the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, Jane Stokes said the community needs it and lamented "the lack of venues for cultural advancement in our capital city."

Others spoke in favor of other planned features of the school that will be considered as alternates.

Art teacher Tom Manning said it wasn't just a cut in construction costs. "What we're talking about is program cuts," he said.

Parent Karen Lawfer called it "crucial these not be considered alternatives. We know that after-school activities is what keeps kids in school."

"Please find more money," drama teacher Bethany Bereman said.

School Board member Mary Becker said she hated having to designate alternatives in the bid. "We don't want to cut out the arts," she said and alluded to the fact that the project approved by voters in October 2004 was scaled back from the plans rejected by voters the previous fall.

"This is the result of us not getting the school we wanted originally," Becker said. "It's hard to take."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at

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