An overhead image shows possible locations to relocate offices for Juneau’s municipal employees along with some available parking lots. (City and Borough of Juneau image)

An overhead image shows possible locations to relocate offices for Juneau’s municipal employees along with some available parking lots. (City and Borough of Juneau image)

Many options, little consensus on moving City Hall to vacated school district buildings

Assembly members debate downtown vs. valley, converting school to office space, costs and parking.

Juneau’s leaders have more options for a new City Hall location since the school district is planning to vacate three city-owned buildings as part of a budget-cutting consolidation, but none quite seem to fit what everyone is looking for.

The Juneau School District’s administrative office and nearby Marie Drake building on Glacier Avenue would allow city employees and public meetings to remain downtown, but there’s a shortage of parking and the surrounding residential neighborhood would be disturbed. Floyd Dryden Middle School has ample indoor and parking space, but considerable reluctance was expressed about moving municipal government offices and functions to the Mendenhall Valley.

An overview of those three buildings, along with the Michael J. Burns Building where the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. is headquartered, was presented to the Juneau Assembly’s Committee of the Whole on Monday night by City Manager Katie Koester. She said she was seeking answers to two key issues in order to come up with more specific plans for a relocation.

“Does City Hall need to remain downtown? Or is the Assembly and community open to moving into the valley?” Koester said, referring to the first issue.

“The second question is does the Assembly want to continue exploring leased property?” she said, referring to an option the city currently uses and is continuing to evaluate. “Or should we figure out how to move into a (school district) facility? Obviously you know the landscape has changed since we started talking about this conversation.”

The Michael J. Burns Building. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

The Michael J. Burns Building. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

A search for office space was relaunched last December after voters twice in two years rejected bond measures to help fund a new City Hall, with city leaders saying the current building and nearby ones used by staff are aging, in need of costly maintenance and inefficient by spreading functions out. After three property owners responded to an inquiry by the city about available locations, Assembly members approved a look at options involving a large amount of available space in the Burns building in January.

However, the possibilities have since expanded due to the school district’s financial crisis also unveiled in January, with the Juneau Board of Education voting in late February for a consolidation plan that returns the city-owned buildings to the municipal government’s control as of the start of the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Although school board members subsequently voted to reconsider two alternatives to the consolidation related to grade alignments this week, the district office and Marie Drake would still be turned over under both alternatives, while one alternative would turn over an elementary school in the Mendenhall Valley rather than Floyd Dryden Middle School.

Ultimately picking any of the above consolidation plans may not affect the city’s decision since a general — if not unanimous — preference was expressed by Assembly members for keeping municipal offices and meetings downtown. There are currently about 165 employees working in five buildings downtown, including City Hall where the Assembly Chambers is located, so questions if operations remain in the area include 1) whether to relocate some or all staff, and 2) if so to one building with sufficient space or a split between multiple buildings.

The Juneau School District’s administrative offices. (City and Borough of Juneau photo)

The Juneau School District’s administrative offices. (City and Borough of Juneau photo)

“In summary, the status quo is untenable,” Koester wrote in a memo presented to the Assembly members Monday. “The Burns building is a great facility but hard to justify when we have two vacant buildings over 70,000 square feet available, Marie Drake needs renovations, but is in better condition than expected with exceptionally challenging parking; Floyd Dryden also needs some renovating, has great parking, but moving City Hall to the Valley compromises the vitality of Downtown.”

The Burns building will have sufficient room as of July for all downtown city employees and will need little conversion work since it’s already professional office space, including a room that can serve as an Assembly Chambers, according to Koester. Furthermore, it can be a more appealing option due to the availability of the district’s administration office.

“We were just a little tight in the Burns building,” she told Assembly members. “So with the JSD administration building being about a block away, that has 18 workstations and it really just allows us to breathe a little bit.”

Koester estimates the Burns building would cost about $5.1 million for the initial conversion, and roughly $1.6 million annually for lease and operations payments afterward.

The Marie Drake Building. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)

The Marie Drake Building. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)

The city-owned Marie Drake building, meanwhile, would cost between $13.1 million and $31 million initially, with a $530,000 annual operating cost, according to Koester. That building could also house all employees, use the commons area as the Assembly Chambers, and is “in better shape than I expected,” Koester said.

“This building needs a lot of polish, but I will say it was not in as terrible condition as I expected,” she said.

However, in addition to a huge parking shortage that might necessitate leasing private lots or subsidizing a shuttle service, using the site as a municipal government center “puts a lot of pressure on the neighborhood,” according to Koester’s memo.

Floyd Dryden has the same estimated initial cost as Marie Drake and an estimated operations cost of $778,000, with the higher amount due to snow removal from the large parking lot, Koester stated. She also noted it’s close to where most employees and residents live.

However, a variety of concerns were expressed by some Assembly members about relocating the center of local government.

“I think it’s irresponsible, if we have alternatives downtown, to move it out of downtown when we really can’t predict the kind of impact it would have financially on the city and on our businesses,” said Assembly member Ella Adkison, adding she also prefers a move into facilities the city owns.

Floyd Dryden Middle School. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire file photo)

Floyd Dryden Middle School. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire file photo)

Mayor Beth Weldon said she also leans toward keeping offices downtown, although “whether to go with Marie Drake or the Burns building I haven’t totally made up my mind on that…I probably lean towards Marie Drake just because we own it in the end.”

She also said Floyd Dryden might be better utilized by the city as a community center for sports and other activities, which some other Assembly members agreed with.

Support for a valley move was expressed by Assembly member Wáahlaal Gíidaak Barbara Blake.

“I think for me parking is one of the biggest things,” she said. “And for me I don’t think it’s an absolute necessity that City Hall needs to be downtown.”

However, she also qualified that by noting the high initial cost to move into Floyd Dryden or Marie Drake, so “nothing is set in stone yet.”

Assembly member Greg Smith said he prefers downtown, yet is open to the valley — but ultimately “I don’t like all the options for one reason or another.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at or (907) 957-2306.

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