House passes rural schools bill

Posted: Thursday, April 20, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- A bill aimed at saving state money on rural school construction by letting companies bid to design and build multiple projects won approval in the House on Wednesday.

House Bill 445 was approved 28-12 after modifications that critics say will keep the measure from being a sweetheart deal for one or two developers.

Rep. Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, said he intended to do nothing more with the bill than create a pilot project that could show savings in rural school projects.

''This bill is certainly far more controversial than I ever intended it to be,'' said Mulder, co-chairman of the House Finance Committee.

Mulder said the bill was designed to obtain firm price proposals and timely completion of rural schools. By having one developer oversee an entire school project, all the companies involved would work more efficiently, he said.

High individual costs of rural schools is one reason more have not been built, Mulder said. A new school in Chevak is projected to cost $28 million. Schools at Kotlik and Pilot Station carry price tags of almost $18 million.

''These projects are very, very expensive,'' Mulder said. ''So we asked the logical question: Is there anything we can do to save the cost of school construction in rural Alaska?

Bond bills in House and Senate committees propose five new rural schools. Awarding all five projects to the successful bidder was less of a pilot project than a sole-source contract for nearly $100 million in rural school construction, said Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage.

The modified bill allows contractors to bid on no more than two-thirds of the projects funded next year.

''That's how you do a pilot project,'' Croft said.

Critics also said a list of qualifications for successful bidders were originally too restrictive. Bidders were to have experience as ''turnkey'' developers. They also were to demonstrate experience in completing rural projects, developing schools and managing and maintaining facilities. The list was dropped in favor of contractors demonstrating how they would reduce construction costs, complete projects on time and provide a maintenance plan.

The approved bill also adds a requirement that state education officials consult with school districts on designs requests.

Mulder said he had no objections to changes made in the bill.

''If people feel more secure with it, that's fine,'' Mulder said.

Rep. Jeannette James, R-North Pole, said she supported the bill and that using prototype school designs had saved the Fairbanks North Star Borough thousands of dollars.

But Rep. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, questioned whether the concept could be carried throughout the state, where conditions vary widely. Some schools are built on permanently frozen ground, some on ground with intermittent permafrost and some near saltwater or river shores, Dyson said. Heating systems also would vary, Dyson said.



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