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 mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 18

Here’s what to expect this week.

Juneau high school seniors Edward Hu of Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé (left), Elizabeth Djajalie of Thunder Mountain High School (center) and Kenyon Jordan of Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School. (Photos of Hu and Jordan by Juneau Empire staff, photo of Djajalie by Victor Djajalie)
Senior Spotlight 2024: Three top students take very different paths to graduation stage

Ceremonies for Juneau’s three high schools take place Sunday.

The entrance road to Bartlett Regional Hospital. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file photo)
Bartlett Regional Hospital looking at eliminating or trimming six ‘non-core’ programs to stabilize finances

Rainforest Recovery Center, autism therapy, crisis stabilization, hospice among programs targeted.

A king salmon. (Ryan Hagerty/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Biden administration advances bid to list Gulf of Alaska king salmon as endangered or threatened

Experts say request could restrict activity affecting river habitats such as road, home construction

Mayor Beth Weldon (left), Deputy Mayor Michelle Bonnet Hale and Juneau Assembly member Paul Kelly discussion proposals for next year’s mill rate during an Assembly Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Assembly members support lower 10.04 mill rate ahead of final vote on next year’s CBJ budget

Initial proposal called for raising current rate of 10.16 mills to 10.32 mills.

Dave Scanlan, general manager of Eaglecrest Ski Area, speaks to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Finance Committee on April 13, 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Dave Scanlan forced out as Eaglecrest’s general manager, says decision ‘came as a complete shock to me’

Resort’s leader for past 7 years says board seeking a “more office-process, paper-oriented” manager.

The entrance to the Alaska Gasline Development Corp.’s Anchorage office is seen on Aug. 11, 2023. The state-owned AGDC is pushing for a massive project that would ship natural gas south from the North Slope, liquefy it and send it on tankers from Cook Inlet to Asian markets. The AGDC proposal is among many that have been raised since the 1970s to try commercialize the North Slope’s stranded natural gas. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Eight young Alaskans sue to block proposed trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline

Plaintiffs cite climate change that harms their access to fish, wildlife and natural resources.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Tuesday, May 21, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read