Knowles vetoes school construction pilot project

Posted: Friday, June 09, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles vetoed a bill Thursday that would have required the state to contract with companies to plan and build rural school projects as an experiment in cutting the state's costs.

House Bill 445, sponsored by the House Finance Committee, would have set up a pilot program for firms to bid for design-build contracts for multiple schools.

Rep. Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, the panel's co-chairman, said he hoped the system would produce firm price proposals and timely completion of rural schools by having one developer oversee an entire project.

Knowles called the bill well-intentioned, but said it would actually delay the construction of critically needed schools because of the state's relatively small school construction plans.

''We need to explore new, cost-effective approaches to building schools in Alaska, both rural and urban,'' Knowles said. ''Simply doing business as we have always done is not acceptable.''

But Knowles said the limited number of rural school projects approved by the Legislature this year makes the bill impractical. Only five of the six projects would come under the bill's pilot program, and four are already designed and nearly ready for bids.

Taking bids for design-build contracts would take an additional four to six months, the Department of Education and Early Development estimated.

''The department and the school districts all believe that this will delay the projects by a full construction season causing significant additional costs,'' Knowles said.

The sixth project, the $28 million school in Chevak, is already planning to seek a design-build contract, but going through the pilot program would cause a delay, said B.A. Weinberg, interim superintendent for the Kashunamiut School District.

''The award of contract for the Chevak project will not likely occur in time for the contractor to make next summer's barge schedule,'' Weinberg said. ''This project delay means Chevak students would be going to school in an overcrowded, hazardous facility for an additional year.''

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