Juneau considers moving City Hall to vacant school buildings

Juneau officials
Juneau City Manager Katie Koester speaks at an Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday, March 11, 2024. (Clarise Larson/KTOO)

The Juneau School District’s current school closure plan would have it vacate three city-owned buildings: the district office on Glacier Avenue, the Marie Drake building and Floyd Dryden Middle School. Now, the city is eyeing those buildings as possible new homes for City Hall. 

“The universe of options is expanding,” City Manager Katie Koester said at an Assembly committee meeting last week.

Fewer than half of city employees work at City Hall. The rest work in rented office space in four other buildings. One of those is the Marine View Building, which has frequent plumbing issues

“Last week, Marine View had a leak that damaged some GIS equipment and flooded three offices,” Koester said. 

Other employees work in a building next to City Hall, which Sealaska Heritage Institute is renovating. Koester said it’s been disruptive to employees.

“Although SHI has done a great job trying to mitigate some of that construction interruption, it really is not a great work environment,” Koester said. “Everything from dust to noises to toxic fumes.”

In October, Juneau voters rejected a bond proposal for a new city hall building for the second year in a row. 

One alternative is the Michael J. Burns Building, which houses the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, where the city could rent office space for about $1.6 million per year. Not all of the city’s work stations could fit into the Burns building, but the rest could fit in the district office nearby, according to the city.

“The Burns building is a great facility but hard to justify when we have two vacant buildings over 70,000 square feet available,” Koester wrote in her memo.

The Marie Drake building, which houses the district’s alternative high school and Montessori programs, would keep City Hall downtown. It has the lowest estimated operating cost of $530,000 per year. But it’s an aging facility with little parking, especially if all high school students end up going to Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé next year.

a building
The Marie Drake building houses the Juneau School District’s alternative high school, Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi, and Montessori Borealis. (Katie Anastas/KTOO)

Floyd Dryden Middle School needs an upgraded HVAC system and part of its roof repaired. It’s also more expensive to operate – about $778,000 per year – because of the amount of snow removal in the larger parking lot. But it has a good amount of parking and room to develop more, and it has community amenities like a gym.

“Those, obviously, would still have community use. Which would be cool, right? City Hall having pick up basketball while we’re maybe in a meeting like this?” Koester said. 

Floyd Dryden’s location in the Mendenhall Valley would also put it where most of Juneau’s residents and city employees live. But Koester said that would put them further away from downtown businesses, the Legislature and state offices.

Koester told the Assembly that renovations at either school could cost anywhere from $13 million to $31 million, depending on the extent of the work.

“$13.1 million gets you carpet, paint, cubicles. If you want to do bathrooms, if you want to do walls, if you want to do some of these other things, you start getting more expensive,” she said. “With any of these options, I would say let’s see what we can get for $16.8 million because that’s what we have right now for this purpose.”

Koester said there are a lot of other possibilities for the school buildings if they don’t become City Hall. Marie Drake could be demolished – for an estimated $4 million – and the space used for parking. Floyd Dryden could be used as a childcare center or new home for Juneau Animal Rescue.

“I think Floyd Dryden is a better facility to let community agencies use,” Mayor Beth Weldon said. “I’ve said from the very beginning, one side kiddos and the other side kitties.”

Assembly members asked Koester to bring back additional information, including parking and renovation costs.

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