Juneau Assembly members and other visitors examine a meeting room formerly used by the nine-member Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development on Monday, April 8, which is about 25% larger than the Assembly Chambers at City Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Juneau Assembly members and other visitors examine a meeting room formerly used by the nine-member Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development on Monday, April 8, which is about 25% larger than the Assembly Chambers at City Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Of three possible new City Hall buildings, one stands out — but plenty of proposed uses for other two

Michael J. Burns Building eyed as city HQ; childcare, animal shelter among options at school sites.

This article has been updated with additional information.

Turning the so-called “Permanent Fund building” into Juneau’s new City Hall is the easiest and least expensive of three buildings visited by Juneau Assembly members during the past two weeks, while two school buildings being turned over to the city may be better suited for a variety of purposes including childcare, senior services and an animal shelter.

That assessment by City Manager Katie Koester was presented to the Assembly’s Committee of the Whole on Monday night. It came after many of the Assembly members got first-hand impressions during visits to the Michael J. Burns Building downtown that is the headquarters of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., the Marie Drake Building a couple of blocks away and Floyd Dryden Middle School in the Mendenhall Valley.

The history of the 1983 carving “The Eagle,” made from a single tree by a northern Chinese family, is explained by Juneau School District Superintendent Frank Hauser during a tour of Floyd Dryden Middle School on Tuesday, April 2. Juneau Assembly members and city staff toured the building, which is being vacated on July 1, as part of their look at three buildings that might be used as a new City Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The history of the 1983 carving “The Eagle,” made from a single tree by a northern Chinese family, is explained by Juneau School District Superintendent Frank Hauser during a tour of Floyd Dryden Middle School on Tuesday, April 2. Juneau Assembly members and city staff toured the building, which is being vacated on July 1, as part of their look at three buildings that might be used as a new City Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Of the three sites, the Burns building is most immediately suitable for municipal government operations since it already is designed as office space, according to reports by Koester and other officials prepared for Monday’s meeting.

“An advantage to the Burns Building space is that the existing floor plan is very open and provides maximum flexibility for configuration of office space,” Jeanne Rynne, chief architect for the City and Borough of Juneau, wrote in a design analysis. Also making it suitable as a new City Hall is “the Burns Building can easily accommodate the Assembly Chambers in the former State Board of Education meeting room, which is 25% larger than the existing Assembly Chambers space.”

Assembly members voted 8-1 to authorize city staff to enter negotiations for leasing space in the Burns building. The dissenting vote was cast by Christine Woll, who said it seems too early to rule Floyd Dryden out as a potential City Hall site without more public input.

“I think Marie Drake is off the table for me given what we’ve heard about (lack of) parking,” she said, referring to Koester’s report that available space is the worst of the three locations. “I’m not sure we’ve built our case yet to the community to take Floyd Dryden off the table. Maybe it’s a matter of how we’re sharing the numbers of what it would cost to turn Floyd Dryden into something that will meet our workforce’s needs.”

While there is a seeming preference among city officials for a downtown City Hall, Woll said there also needs to be evidence it’s cost-effective and “I think we need to show the community, bring them a little further before signing a lease.”

Some other Assembly members expressed concern about the vast scope and short timeline of determining the use for a large amount of space in multiple buildings.

“In the time that I’ve been on the Assembly this is by far the most ambitious timeline I have ever seen for a lot of moving pieces — and not only a lot of moving pieces, but very consequential for the community pieces,” said Alicia Hughes-Skandijs, who is serving her second three-year term.

Koester said that while commitments and contracts for spaces don’t necessarily have to be signed immediately, she is hoping agreements will offset some of the costs involved with converting and maintaining the city-owned buildings.

About 160 municipal employees downtown are currently spread out among leased space in four buildings plus the 73-year-old City Hall. Relocating staff — ideally into a new City Hall site so most or all are in one location for easier access to each other and the public — has been a priority of local leaders in recent years due to extensive maintenance needed to many of the existing buildings as well as the cost of ongoing lease payments.

City and school district leaders examine the commons area in the Marie Drake Building, which could be converted to a new Assembly Chambers if selected as a new City Hall, during a tour on Thursday, April 4. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

City and school district leaders examine the commons area in the Marie Drake Building, which could be converted to a new Assembly Chambers if selected as a new City Hall, during a tour on Thursday, April 4. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

However, voters during the fall municipal elections in 2022 and 2023 rejected bond measures of $35 million and $27 million, respectively, to help pay the cost of a new City Hall at 450 Whittier Street near the State Office Building. That prompted a renewed look at existing buildings, some of which had been evaluated before and considered less suitable than a new City Hall.

The Burns building emerged as the preferred option of local leaders in January after an open invitation for local property owners to submit spaces for consideration. But a massive budget crisis exposed at the Juneau School District during the month resulted in the school board approving a consolidation plan in February that turns Marie Drake, Floyd Dryden and the district’s administration building over to the city — resulting in a reevaluation that included those sites as a possible new City Hall.

A sign inside Floyd Dryden Middle School offers listening guidance for possible future leaders — and perhaps current ones touring the building on Tuesday, April 2, as they evaluate proposed sites for a new City Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A sign inside Floyd Dryden Middle School offers listening guidance for possible future leaders — and perhaps current ones touring the building on Tuesday, April 2, as they evaluate proposed sites for a new City Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

One change from January’s recommendation for the Burns building is placing some of the downtown city staff in the district’s administration building that has 17 workstation spaces, meaning “all current downtown employees can be housed within a one block radius,” Koester wrote.

Each of the three buildings envisioned as a possible new City Hall has strengths and weaknesses for various government and other uses, differing costs of converting space for those uses and ongoing expenses, and other issues such as available parking to consider.

The following are summaries of the buildings and their possible future uses based on reports by city staff, and the tours by Assembly members and other officials:

The Michael J. Burns Building on Monday, April 8. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The Michael J. Burns Building on Monday, April 8. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Michael J. Burns Building

The entry space is the grandest of the buildings the city occupies or is considering, with an open lobby extending the full three-story height of the building — although it looks somewhat barren now that Goldbelt has removed two indoor totem poles and one outside the entrance door to its new headquarters in the Mendenhall Valley.

But while the other two sites are filled with students’ desks, lockers, gyms, music rooms, science labs and other school staples, the 61,218-square-foot Burns building is strictly business.

Some of the space is purely functional and/or vacant, including a large empty portion of the second floor where some city employees are already scheduled to move into starting May 1. More lavish is the third-floor headquarters of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., where employees managing the $80 billion fund sit at workstations with multiple large-screen monitors, can lounge in plush long chairs in a respite room and take lunch breaks in a kitchen that is an oversized version of what might be found in millionaire’s home.

Assembly members and other visitors gather in the entrance lobby of the Michael J. Burns Building on Monday, April 8, as part of their on-site tour of potential locations for a new City Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Assembly members and other visitors gather in the entrance lobby of the Michael J. Burns Building on Monday, April 8, as part of their on-site tour of potential locations for a new City Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

It’s safe to say the city’s offices and meeting spaces would look more like the areas currently and formerly occupied by state government agencies.

An original estimate of $5.1 million in March to convert current space for city use — by far the cheapest estimate of the three buildings under consideration — “included moving walls to maximize cubicles on the exterior and maximize natural light to workstations,” according to Koester. However, she sought an even lower-cost option.

“I asked staff to explore the most basic tenant improvements to the Burns Building, which would give the place more of a cubical farm feel. This came in at $3.3M,” she wrote.

The main financial drawback of the Burns building is the city will be leasing space, rather than occupying a building it owns. Koester estimates the initial annual lease and operating cost for the Burns building (and the district’s administrative building) would be $1.55 million, compared to the $1.25 million in leases the city is currently paying, but looking at future years “it is safe to assume a long-term lease for a much larger space would have more favorable terms.”

Assembly members and other visitors examine empty office space inside the Michael J. Burns Building on Monday, April 8, that city employees are scheduled to move into on May 1. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Assembly members and other visitors examine empty office space inside the Michael J. Burns Building on Monday, April 8, that city employees are scheduled to move into on May 1. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Providing enough parking will be a challenge if the Burns building becomes the new City Hall, although the situation is “far superior to Marie Drake,” Koester wrote. She stated Floyd Dryden has ample parking and room to develop more space.

The city would get 87 parking spaces at the Burns building with its current lease plan and there are 50 more available at city-owned property at 450 Whittier several blocks away, according to Koester.

“Remaining parking needs can be solved with a combination of existing CBJ surface parking in the area and some use of the Marine Parking Garage (for city vehicles, for example),” she wrote. “The 450 Whittier site is .33 miles from the Burns building. The limited nature of premier parking spots will naturally incentivize employees to use alternative transportation to get to City Hall. On-site parking will be designated for the public.”

The exterior of the Marie Drake Building on Thursday, April 4. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The exterior of the Marie Drake Building on Thursday, April 4. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Marie Drake Building

There’s a planetarium just a few steps inside the main entrance, a foosball table in what could become the new Assembly Chambers and hallways of lockers adorned with a creative variety of student art (definitely not to be confused with defaced by graffiti).

But the setting that fosters creativity for local students in the Montessori program and alternative Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School doesn’t seem easily suited for conversion to the center of city government, although there is more than ample space for employees and public meeting spaces.

The building was constructed in 1965 as a junior high school, with a library wing added in 1984. Koester stated staff explored that possibility using $16.3 million the Assembly has already approved for “City Hall Improvements,” based on the need for either a new City Hall or maintenance at existing facilities.

Assembly members and other staff examine the music room at the Marie Drake Building on Thursday, April 4. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Assembly members and other staff examine the music room at the Marie Drake Building on Thursday, April 4. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

“This renovation would be pretty basic — upgrading classroom finishes (paint and carpet), installing workstations with power/cables, and limited reconfiguration,” she wrote. Also, that amount “does not allow for reconfiguring walls, which means workstations in classrooms which will make logical delineation between departments/divisions difficult. Classrooms were a lot smaller in the 60s, so many of the classrooms yield cramped workstations despite the overall large footprint of Marie Drake.”

Furthermore, “parking continues to be the Achilles heel of the Marie Drake as City Hall option,” Koester noted. There are about 45 on-site parking spaces and about 20 more could be installed “by cutting down some trees and accessing land currently gated off.” While there is a turf field at the site, building a parking garage on that space would cost about $26.2 million for 209 spots.

The annual operating cost of $530,000 would be the lowest of the three buildings, according to her analysis.

The exterior of Floyd Dryden Middle School on Tuesday, April 2. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The exterior of Floyd Dryden Middle School on Tuesday, April 2. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Floyd Dryden Middle School

The school celebrated its 50th birthday less than a year ago, but is being vacated by the school district on July 1 due to the consolidation that will close both existing middle schools and put students in grades 7-8 at what will be known as Thunder Mountain Middle School.

While it offers two notable advantages as a possible City Hall — ample parking and being located in the Mendenhall Valley where a majority of municipal employees live — local leaders are envisioning using it and Marie Drake for a multitude of other purposes.

“The community has informally generated many ideas on what to do with the two large facilities,” Koester wrote. “These include childcare, relocation of City facilities to free up property for higher priority uses, Senior Center, and Juneau Animal Rescue, among others. For example, the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska has approached CBJ about leasing 14,000 square feet of Floyd Dryden for Headstart and childcare.”

Juneau School District Frank Hauser explains the layout of Floyd Dryden Middle School during a tour on Tuesday, April 2. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Juneau School District Frank Hauser explains the layout of Floyd Dryden Middle School during a tour on Tuesday, April 2. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Converting Floyd Dryden to office space would cost about the same as Marie Drake, according to city estimates.

“Even though the basic finishes are in better condition at Floyd Dryden, retrofitting classrooms is the bulk of the cost,” Koester noted.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

Juneau School District Superintendent Frank Hauser explains facilities in the library at Marie Drake Building during a tour on Thursday, April 4. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Juneau School District Superintendent Frank Hauser explains facilities in the library at Marie Drake Building during a tour on Thursday, April 4. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Some of the student art seen on lockers throughout the Marie Drake Building on Thursday, April 4. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Some of the student art seen on lockers throughout the Marie Drake Building on Thursday, April 4. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

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 25

Here’s what to expect this week.

Wreath bearers present wreaths for fallen comrades, brothers and sisters in arms during a Memorial Day ceremony at Alaskan Memorial Park on Monday. Laying wreaths on the graves of fallen heroes is a way to honor and remember the sacrifices made. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
Traditional Memorial Day ceremonies offer new ways to ‘never forget’ those who served

New installations at memorial sites, fresh words of reminder shared by hundreds gathering in Juneau.

Thunder Mountain High School graduates celebrate after moving their tassels to the left, their newly received diplomas in hand, at the end of Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
‘Forever a Falcon’: Thunder Mountain High School celebrates final graduating class

147 seniors get soaring sendoff during 16th annual commencement full of heightened emotions.

Seniors at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé enter the gymnasium for their commencement ceremony on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
JDHS graduates celebrate journey from virtual ‘pajama class’ freshmen to virtuous camaraderie

Resolve in overcoming struggles a lifelong lesson for future, seniors told at commencement ceremony.

Sierra Guerro-Flores (right) listens to her advisor Electra Gardinier after being presented with her diploma at Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School’s graduation ceremony Sunday in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Alternatives are vast for Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School’s graduating class

31 students take center stage during ceremony revisiting their paths at the school and what’s next.

The LeConte state ferry in 2023. (Lex Treinen / Chilkat Valley News)
Stranded Beerfest travelers scramble to rebook after LeConte ferry breakdown

Loss of 225-passenger ferry leaves many Juneau-bound revelers looking for other ways home.

A photo taken from the terminal roof shows the extent of the first phase of paving to accommodate large aircraft. (Mike Greene / City and Borough of Juneau)
Large-scale repaving project plants itself at Juneau International Airport

Work may take two to three years, schedule seeks to limit impact on operations.

Capital Transit buses wait to depart from the downtown transit center on Thursday. Route number 8 was adjusted this spring. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
More service, visitor information helping Capital Transit to keep up with extra cruise passenger traffic

Remedies made after residents unable to board full buses last year seem to be working, officials say

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, May 23, 2024

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

Most Read