In this 2015 photo, Juneau-Douglas High School is shown. The Juneau Assembly and School Board decided Monday to spend up to $300,000 to hire an outside consultant to help shape the future of the city's schools.

In this 2015 photo, Juneau-Douglas High School is shown. The Juneau Assembly and School Board decided Monday to spend up to $300,000 to hire an outside consultant to help shape the future of the city's schools.

Assembly, School Board to hire outside consultant for facility master plan

In a joint meeting Monday night, the Juneau Assembly and School Board decided to spend up to $300,000 to hire an outside consultant who will help shape the future of the city’s schools.

The Juneau School District currently maintains almost a million square feet of facilities, which will have accumulated about $67 million in deferred maintenance. In the past, the city took advantage of the state’s School Construction Debt Program to fund large maintenance projects, but those funds have since dried up, at least temporarily.

Last year, the Legislature put a five-year freeze on the program. The moratorium won’t end until July 1, 2020, leaving the city and the school district with one big question.

“Can we continue to afford to run the schools we have in the manner that we run them? And that’s kind of the mission statement for the consultant,” said City Manager Rorie Watt after the meeting. Monday marked Watt’s first Assembly meeting as city manager.

At the meeting, Nathan Coffee, an architect with the city’s Engineering Department, painted a grim picture for the Assembly and School Board members — who combined form the Facility Planning Committee.

The school district isn’t utilizing all of the space that it is maintaining, and the accumulating deferred maintenance is going to force some difficult decisions that a consultant could help with, Coffee said.

Though the committee decided unanimously to put out the request for proposals, seeking a consultant to help draft a Facility Master Plan for the school district, it didn’t do so without discussion.

“I’ve been around just long enough to get weary of paying a lot of money for consultants for a plan that gets stuck on a shelf. We hear that all the time,” Assembly member Jerry Nankervis said.

He and fellow Assembly member Jesse Kiehl asked if it would be possible to develop the facility master plan in house. Juneau School District Superintendent Mark Miller assured them it wouldn’t.

“The school district doesn’t have the manpower or the skill set to pull that off; we just don’t,” Miller said, echoing the sentiments of School Board members Sean O’Brien and Josh Keaton, who both spoke in support of hiring a consultant.

The hope, according to Watt, is for the consultant to bring a body of knowledge to the table that Juneau simply doesn’t have.

“They’re going to say here are the things other communities have done when faced with this kind of problem,” he said.

Assembly member Jerry Nankervis ultimately supported the decision to hire a consultant — or at least he didn’t object to it. But he said that if the city spends money on a consultant, then the Assembly and School Board need to have the “courage and conviction” to implement any suggestions “even if they’re radically different from the way we do things.”

The RFP for the consultant will go out in the next four to six weeks. The goal is to hire a consultant by June, providing a 15-month work window. The city hopes to have a plan ready by September 2017, which will allow time for the city to implement any suggested changes for the following year.

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