District asks state to pay for more of new school

Higher priority on funding list also sought for second high school

Posted: Sunday, December 10, 2000

The Juneau School District wants the state to pay for more of the proposed high school at Dimond Park and move up the project on a priority list.

Schools Superintendent Gary Bader, in a letter to state education officials, said the school would open later than once expected and expressed concern about inflation.

Voters in October 1999 approved nearly $50 million in bonds to build a 1,200-student high school in the Mendenhall Valley. Some design work has taken place, but construction depends on getting partial state reimbursement.

The school was expected to open in fall 2004. But planners now say the school might open in December 2005 even if the Legislature authorizes funding this upcoming session. And that's an aggressive construction schedule, Bader said in his letter to the state Department of Education.

The department, in its school construction list for fiscal year 2002, has said only $41.3 million of the budgeted $49.9 million school is eligible for state funding, such as a grant or bond reimbursement. The school district wants the department to reconsider that. It has asked that $47.2 million be eligible.

Also, the department ranked the Juneau high school at No. 43 out of 59 projects submitted by school districts. Bader asked for a higher ranking. The school construction list is a recommendation to the Legislature on priorities and funding amounts, although lawmakers don't always follow it.

In recent years the Legislature has reimbursed some cities 70 percent of the eligible costs of a school. At that reimbursement rate, Bader's request would reduce the local share of construction costs by about $4 million, plus some of the city's expense in paying interest on the bonds.

To figure out how much of a school project is eligible for state funding, the state converts projected student enrollments into school space, then subtracts current space. The needed new space is multiplied by an agreed-upon cost per square foot. For the formula, enrollments are projected to five years after the school would open.

The Juneau School District and the state disagree about when the new school would open, what the enrollments would be five years after that, and whether part of the Marie Drake building should be counted as high school space.

JDHS, bulging with about 1,650 students, uses some of the adjacent Marie Drake building. But Bader said Marie Drake would be used as a middle school by 2006.

The school district also asked the department to add a 2 percent inflation factor to the $252 square-foot cost it previously approved. The $252 "was a conservative figure to begin with, and the passage of time creates inflationary pressures which must be recognized," Bader said in his letter.

The request doesn't increase the project's cost, but it asks the state to pay for more of it.

The Department of Education is scheduled to evaluate the school district's request by Dec. 15, said Larry White, a building management specialist.

"We certainly weren't trying to be unfair to anybody," he said. "There are certain guidelines we have to follow, especially in order to treat everybody the same."

The department is required to include the portion of Marie Drake that is used by JDHS as part of the district's secondary-student capacity, White said. And the agency split the difference between its more conservative projected rate of enrollment growth and the district's, he said.

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