Bond to Valdez voters this fall if state passes ed specs
A milestone in the 10-year quest to build a new middle school in Valdez was reached Thursday night after both the city council and the board of education approved a rough design of the proposed facility. The approved plans are drawn at 10 percent of the actual blue prints and need to pass muster with the Alaska Dept. of Education before Valdez voters will be asked whether to pass or flunk funding for the project.
The “budgetary cost analysis” of the project came in at a cool $41,769,052, which is not a firm price tag for the new school. Nor did that figure include a last-minute addition of a 2,400 square foot dedicated mat room the district’s various wrestling programs that was added by the school board during the marathon meetings and work session.
“All this is all a best estimate,” John Hozey, the city’s manager said when questioned by the public on the cost of the project. “This is not a firm cost estimate.”
According to Hozey, a true cost estimate will not be known until architects do further work on the project - well before bonding for the project reaches ballots in the October elections.
Before the project can move forward, it must meet with the approval of the state’s Dept. of Education to ensure the conceptual drawings and plans meet Alaska’s educational specifications, or ed specs.
If the current concept is found to meet state ed specs, the state will fund 60 percent of the project’s cost. Voters will still have to approve bonding for the full amount because the state reimburses its share back to municipalities a little at a time rather than in a lump sum.
“It’s our debt,” Hozey explained, “the state’s not on the hook.”
Some questioned the scope of the project, including its high school regulation gym at 14,600 square feet.
“You can’t really say 60 percent of what,” former board member Dolores Gard said when council convened to pass the resolution. She worried the state might renege on paying for 60 percent of the cost and questioned the wisdom of asking approval for a plan without firm cost estimates. “I don’t want to be shot down later, because the moon, we can’t have it all the time.”
If the plans passed Thursday are approved by the state, they will be presented to the council, school board and public again when architects do more work and present a schematic at 30 percent completion. It will also contain a firm number for bonding purposes according to Hozey.
“If you’re looking for cost savings, that would be the time to do it.” Hozey said, noting the architect and planners hired by the city to bring the project to its current point feel confident the $42 million figure quoted in the cost analysis will be very close to the final number for the new school.
The current cost analysis, with a price tag of $41,769,052, does not include the cost of relocating the current bus barn which will need to be torn down and relocated for a new facility. That is currently estimated to cost a little over $1.5 million and Hozey said it is unlikely the state will pay any percentage of that.
If the current estimate proves true, the state will pick up $24,343,831 of the tab, and Valdez pay $16,229,221 plus another $1.5 million for a new bus barn.
Valdez voters have been down a similar path before. A $17 million bond was passed by voters about ten years ago. However, the bond was approved by voters before plans had been submitted for state approval and city officials found out after-the-fact its plans did not meet the state’s ed specs and was also under-budgeted. The bond language also included new roofs for the district’s other schools and a hodge-podge of other educational projects. The city sold approximately $2 million of the approved bonds on a new roof for Hermon Hutchens Elementary School, with the remaining $15 million still open.
Hozey said the state recommended the older bond approval be closed by the city and the full cost of the new school be presented to voters at its real cost in a new bond election, a lengthy process in itself.
The next regular city election is scheduled for Tuesday, October 2.
“We need that much time to do all that,” Hozey.