SPREADING JOY

Anna Korsmo plays Gladys Herdman who plays the Angel Gabriel in the Skagway Drama Club’s hit play, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” at school last weekend. See coverage from the school play and concert . Jeff Brady

ABC suit settled for $200,000
City pays $125,000, KPB $75,000 to resolve McCabe bldg. dispute

By JEFF BRADY
A settlement has been reached amounting to the approximate sum retained from Alaska Building Contractors after it walked off the McCabe project in August 2000.
Under a settlement agreement approved by the Skagway City Council at its Dec. 4 meeting, $200,000 will be paid into a trust account set up by Charles G. Evans of Anchorage, attorney for one of the bonding companies for the project, American Casualty Co. of Reading, Penn. The trust account will then pay obligations to the Internal Revenue Service and ABC’s attorney.
The city will pay $125,000 into the account, and the architectural firm of Koonce, Pfeffer, Bettis (KPB) will pay $75,000. KPB designed the McCabe building renovations and expansion, and managed its construction. All of the parties and individuals involved were released from further claims.
Citing alleged contract violations, ABC owners Patrick, Michael, Sue and Julie Wolfe brought suit against the city and its architect for $1.73 million in early 2001. Counterclaims were subsequently filed by the city, and then by the bonding companies.
The project was supposed to be completed in time for the city’s 100th birthday in 2000, but change orders, disputes between the parties, and subsequent delays pushed it beyond a target completion date in April. It was not ready for the museum to move in that spring, nor was it ready by the party which was held that June outside the building. ABC terminated work in August. The city withheld final payment of approximately $200,000 to the contractor, but did pay money due to ABC’s subcontractors.
Originally budgeted for $2.5 million, the McCabe project ended up costing $2.7 million. The city brought in local contractor Jewell Construction to finish many items on the job’s lengthy punch list, and their work was completed in early Sept. 2001. Work to complete the job was in excess of the $200,000 withheld from ABC, according to the settlement document.
The case was scheduled for a trial in Juneau to begin in January, but attorneys for all parties mediated the dispute in Skagway on Nov. 10-11, resulting in the settlement
“We still feel confident that we could have prevailed in court,” said City Manager Bob Ward, but the settlement offer from ABC saved the city the expense of a five-week trial.
“Prudence was the better part of valor,” Ward commented. “In this case it made sense to settle.”
Ward said he had discussed the settlement with city auditors, and the $125,000 can come out of the FY 2002-03 budget, as a journal entry for administration from the sales tax budget. The amount was to be wired to the bonding companies’ trust account on Dec. 11.
KPB was due to pay its $75,000 in two installments, a $50,000 payment by Dec. 11, and $25,000 by Feb. 9, 2004.
ABC, which is no longer in business, apparently will not see any of the $200,000 from the city and KPB.
As part of the settlement, the bonding companies will forward $35,000 to a trust account for Davis Black, LLC, the attorney firm that represented ABC. And then, by Feb. 10, 2004, the bonding companies will pay the Internal Revenue Service $165,000 to cover unpaid withholding taxes for McCabe project employees in all four quarters of 1999 and additional obligations from ABC for 2002.
ABC attorney Ron Black did not respond by press time to a request for comment on the settlement.
Ward said the city can now focus on another legal challenge. Southeast Tours and Skaguay Tour Co. have challenged the city’s May 2003 ordinance restricting commercial tour sales to enclosed structures. Ordinance 03-10 was crafted after the city’s previous “10-foot rule” was struck down in court. Depositions in the case will occur in January.

Yukon Territory Premier Dennis Fentie, left, and Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski sign a cooperation accord in Whitehorse. YTG photo

Gov. Murkowski promotes rail links to Yukon at Whitehorse

Signs accord with premier, seeks tour pattern changes for region

Whitehorse Star/Skagway News
The train whistle should blow again in Whitehorse, says Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski.
He told a business luncheon in Whitehorse Dec. 1 that revitalizing the Skagway-to-Whitehorse railway link is ideal for bolstering tourism attractions in the Yukon and Alaska.
There is a need to develop more places to visit if the two jurisdictions want to strengthen their tourism numbers, and reinstating the entire route is a perfect way, the governor said.
“We would like to encourage that type of development because we think that type of venue would be attractive.”
Murkowski emphasized his interest in the White Pass and Yukon Route railway to a full house at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre. The governor was in Whitehorse to sign a cooperation accord with Premier Dennis Fentie which commits both jurisdictions to work together on common issues.
There will be a natural gas pipeline, the governor said matter-of-factly. Bringing the North American railway grid from northern B.C. and Alberta through the territory to link up with the Alaska Railway would stimulate resource development in both the Yukon and Alaska, he said.
The North, Murkowski told the audience, is the continent’s bread basket, with its potential for the development of resources: minerals, timber, fish, oil and gas.
Having a main rail link anchor what he described as a transportation corridor would promote resource development, stimulate economic growth and improve the quality of life for Yukon and Alaska residents.
Fentie told the audience he and Murkowski will work on Ottawa and Washington to promote a rail link to the south. He also pointed out he’s been invited to Juneau early in the new year to attend a conference on the rail project.
The cooperation accord, said Fentie, is an indication there is the political will at the highest level in the Yukon and Alaska to work together on key issues.
“The bottom line is that by signing this accord, the Yukon and Alaskan governments will ensure that northerners can benefit from economic development, no matter which side of the border they live and work on,” the premier said.
Murkowski said he stressed the summertime railway service between Skagway and Whitehorse because he wanted the audience to know just how committed he was. “As a consequence of that, we are willing to spend a little time and effort with some of the major tourist companies,” the governor said. “We feel this is an opportunity whose time has come again.
“In any event, I wanted to make sure you understood the extent of our interest.”
Gary Danielson, president of the White Pass and Yukon Route, was among the lunch guests who listened to Murkowski’s desire for a return of the Whitehorse-Skagway link. No government officials discussed the issue with him prior to the announcement, Danielson said.
Unless tour companies can be convinced to make the Skagway-Whitehorse route one of their inland excursion packages for cruise ship passengers, there’s not much chance of it happening as a stand-alone tourism attraction, Danielson said.
Danielson pointed out that approximately 85 per cent of the cruise ship passengers who book inland excursions as part of their package travel through the Gulf of Alaska and begin or end their inland tour at Seward or Whittier.
White Pass, he pointed out, carried a record 348,000 passengers last summer, mostly on summit tours, and is currently in discussions with tour companies about extending the day-trip package to include Carcross.
He said even that won’t happen until 2005 at the earliest because tour companies are often working on trip packages two and three years in advance.
The cost of bringing the railway bed up to standard, after 21 years of laying idle, is estimated at $8 million to $10 million US, Danielson said, adding the cost of operating the service is not included.
On the other hand, he added, if the pipeline were to come through, and costs were offset by a renewed market for moving freight, it could happen.
Nonetheless, White Pass is pleased the governor feels the way he does, as the company would also like to see a return of the full Whitehorse-Skagway route, he said.
Danielson said he spoke with the governor after lunch to emphasize the need to have more cruise ship tourists depart for their inland excursions in Skagway to make his wish viable, in the absence of any major industrial developments.
The governor called a separate press conference in Juneau on Dec. 3 after his return from the Yukon, and again talked about the railroad.
“We concentrated on areas of common interest,” he said of the meeting with Premier Fentie. “The White Pass is traditional but it doesn’t go to Whitehorse anymore. We have reason to believe it would be a very attractive venue to extend the railroad beyond Bennett, and that is underway currently, to move ... to a halfway point between Bennett and Whitehorse, and then try to extend it beyond.
“The bed is there, the rails are there, so it’s a matter of updating the ties. We think that would enhance tourism.”
It would take more than ties. For the past few summers, the entire railbed has been rebuilt between Bennett and Carcross to meet Canada rules for passenger operations.
Murkowski went on to say a road into Juneau is viewed in Whitehorse as a significant opportunity to enhance tourism, adding that the Yukon government committed to building a bridge over the Yukon River at Dawson, which could be completed in two years.

School Board members and Superintendent Dickens discuss school issues at the Community Forum at the Temsco terminal. JB

More languages, pop questions, attendance policy dominate forum

By JEFF BRADY
About 20 parents and teachers came out on an icy night to participate in the second annual Community Forum with Skagway City School Board members on Dec. 2. The event was held at Temsco Helicopters’ spacious terminal, where they divided into two groups to address these questions:
1) What would you like to see our school offer students at school?
2) Prioritize the issues the school will have to address in the next few years.
3) How do you feel about food and drink being sold during the school day? Do you feel our school adequately educates students on nutrition and health?
4) How is the attendance policy (no more than 15 absences per semester unless a waiver is approved by the school board) working for you? Are kids getting adequate homework for their trips, are they completing it, are they getting enough information from their teachers, and are the kids caught up and where they should be when they return?
Foreign languages dominated discussion on the first question. Parents wanted to see a teacher dedicated to a language, preferably Spanish, rather than someone teaching it outside their specialized area. Currently the music instructor teaches a German class, and before him a math teacher taught Spanish.
Superintendent Michael Dickens said the district’s ability to hire another teacher depends on greater pupil counts and “money, money, money.”
Other course offerings discussed were classical literature, an alternative to algebra for eighth graders, driver’s education, and art. Dickens said he tried to bring in local artists to the school last year, but only one could commit the time. He plans to send kids to an art camp in Petersburg in the spring. Parents liked the cooking elective being taught this semester, and wondered if it could be extended.
District finances, community education funding, building upkeep, and the threat of school district consolidation on the statewide level was on the minds of parents who thought fighting this should be top priorities..
Board member Chris Maggio, who attended the Association of Alaska School Boards conference last month, said AASB is opposed to the consolidation proposal by Sen. Gary Wilken of Fairbanks. Maggio said the proposal would save the state only $4 million.
Board President Chris Ellis said if Skagway were combined with the Haines Borough district, it would save the state nothing since a principal would have to be onsite here. Skagway has a superintendent-principal, and “our administration is stretched,” added Maggio.
Board members urged parents and teachers to write their legislators.
What started as a “clash over Dr. Pepper” in the high school has turned into a debate over the use of pop machines in the school, said Dickens in his introduction to the third topic.
While some parents wanted the machines taken out or unplugged during the school day, others did not see them being used enough during the day to be a problem. All felt kids were getting proper instruction on nutrition, but some wanted to limit their choices to healthier items.
Most said it was a high school issue, since pop is not allowed in the elementary wing. And use seems to be concentrated around the midmorning break period, for about 10-15 minutes. Students are not using the machines at lunch since they get milk or juice with their meal.
While English teacher Deb Hansen said she has to ask students to set cans outside her classroom all day long, technology teacher Gary Trozzo said he doesn’t mind the kids having food and drink. He said they are always hungry.
“I’d rather the kids be eating in my class and being productive than sitting there and doing nothing,” he said.
Trozzo gave some history behind the midmorning break period and the pop machines. The break was created about 10 years ago when his daughter and other students were taking music classes before school and through the lunch period and were not getting anything to eat until school was over. The student store was opened to sell quick microwave food items during this break. Since the advent of the school lunch and before-school breakfast programs in the past two-three years, there have been efforts by staff to eliminate the morning break, he said. Approximately 30 kids eat breakfast at the school, and 80 of the 105 enrolled eat lunch there.
As for the pop machines, Trozzo said one was introduced about 10 years ago, and then the school added two more after it signed a seven-year agreement with Pepsi-Cola, which gave the school a new scoreboard. The district is midway through that agreement period. Profits from the machines help with fund-raising for various student groups. He said larger schools have many more machines, including espresso-making units.
There was even a concern that removing the machines may create a black market in the school.
“If you remove the machines, they’ll just bring (pop) to school with them,” said parent Niki Hahn. “They’ll pack it to school and sell it,” added Elda Neitzer.
The meeting concluded with no real resolutions on the attendance policy. One group favored keeping it as is, with the 15 absences per semester limit unless allowed by board waiver, while the other group suggested eliminating the requirement for grades K-8.
Longer absences are more of a problem for high school students. Teachers said better communication is a key for dealing with long absences and their consequences.
Parents need to know that if their high schooler is gone for long periods, “they might drop a grade ot two, or even fail,” said Hansen. “It is extremely hard to catch up.”
Trozzo said teachers need more than a couple days’ notice to prepare work for students to do while absent. If parents set aside time on the trip for the work to be done, then the work being turned in is usually quality work, said elementary teacher Mary McCaffrey. Problems arise when kids try to do it all at the end of the trip. In the age of e-mail, it is easier for parents and students to be in touch with teachers and the school when away from Skagway, Trozzo noted.
When children are younger, parents tend to take longer vacations because they feel the work can be caught up. While parents in one group felt the 15 days was a good limit for planning a vacation, parents in the other group said it may not be necessary in the lower grades, where parents shouldn’t be forced to decide whether to withdraw their kid from school if they want to
be away for longer periods.
The board met in work session Tuesday night to go over their notes from the forum and use them in formulating their goals for the coming year.

OTHER STORIES

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SCHOOL PLAY: "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever"

• OBITUARIES: Bob Selmer, Bill Bigham

• SCHOOL CONCERT: Rootin' Tootin' Christmas Music Program

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