School board approves exterior Hopi Elementary aesthetics

The two outside options Hopi Elementary School is presented with. (photos by SUSD)

Something as minuscule as a four-inch red brick catapulted the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board into a lengthy conversation during its Aug. 10 special meeting.

At issue is what the front of the renovated Hopi Elementary School will look like. Plans illustrating a dark-red colored front were presented to a bond committee consisting of local residents, but the artist rendering the residents saw versus what was presented to the governing board members were different, district officials say.

To some, that subtle nuance makes all the difference and is what led to the lengthy discussion.

Confusion over who saw what architectural plans, the various colors of red brick, artist renderings and emails led to the lengthy discussion during the special meeting.

Following community input that strongly asked for red brick on the front of the school building, two options were shown and agreed upon by the governing board at its Aug. 10 special meeting held at Coronado High School, 7601 E. Virginia Ave.

The governing board voted 5-0 to collectively approve moving forward with construction after the Hopi Elementary community chooses one of the facades, by a date to be determined.

The remodel of Hopi Elementary School is one of the first projects in the works utilizing the $229 million bond passed by voters in November 2016.

Ultimately the bond is earmarked for eight elementary school rebuilds; lifecycle improvements at 22 schools; learning environment remodels at nine schools; numerous transportation updates; security updates at all schools; and physical education and athletics at all five high schools.

The board in December 2016 agreed to make Hopi Elementary School, 5110 E. Lafayette Blvd. in Phoenix, its top priority because of its aging and crowded campus. It has a budget of $21 million, according to Chief Operation Officer Louis Hartwell.

As the spring and summer stretched on, district officials and hired hands were attempting to find an agreeable facade — or elevation in construction lingo — for Hopi.

A 12-person bond committee comprised of Hopi Elementary faculty, parents and community members were first presented with a couple of outside design options back in April and June. Neither option received popular support, Mr. Hartwell recalled.

“We quickly said, well if that’s the case then let’s go look at a couple of the other ones. Then we went to ‘well a lot of the locations like brick, what do you think about brick?’” Mr. Hartwell explained to the governing board.

“They said ‘well we like brick but can we pick out the color?’ That was kind of how we left it at the June meeting,” he said. “Of course we didn’t have any meetings in July.”

The committee saw an artist’s rendering with red-colored areas but it did not look like a true brick would look on a building.

Therefore, Mr. Hartwell had a more realistic artist rendering drawn up — and presented to the governing board Aug. 10. But community members reportedly had not seen the look, which resulted in a flood of emails.

“We kind of left the elevation towards the end, and we did make it very clear, both Louis and I, that it was a board decision and we were gathering input from the community members and from the teachers, but it was overwhelmingly brick,” Hopi Elementary Principal Tamara Jagodzinski said.

In order to meet the estimated completion date of summer 2018, a decision on the four-inch $120,000 red brick facade needed to be made in order to submit plans to the city of Phoenix to begin its municipal process.

“We’ve been overly gathering what most do because we are so consciousness of how important it is for Scottsdale to have this input,” Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell said to the governing board.

“I have no problem waiting a month and moving back deadlines, and going back to the committee, going back to the school, letting every teacher weight in — but the teachers don’t live in the community. That building is going to be there for 50-60 years. I want Hopi to feel they’ve vested in this 50-year building that’s going to be here. No one wants to rush this process.”

Dr. Birdwell says the Hopi community is the anomaly in this equation; the other school remodel projects will no longer be waiting on Hopi to get started.

“Just for the record, we are not waiting any longer on Hopi and I really don’t care if you take this back and set it up in the office for the next 30 days and let people weigh in — please do,” she said. “Just make sure everybody’s had their voice, and we’ll just slow the architect down. It’s not a problem.”

While district leaders wrestled with making a decision or allowing Hopi to take more time to meet and confer, Governing Board Vice President Pam Kirby came up with an agreeable solution.

“It is very clear to me by re-reading the email that the committee saw the picture with just the red; the committee has never seen this, and that’s what they’re upset about,” Ms. Kirby explained.

“I want to offer up a solution: that tonight the board approve both of these subject to the committee’s final decision, and then it’s incumbent upon the committee to move as fast as they can.”

Ultimately, if the school can stay within its $21 million budget then the governing board was happy to grant its wish of red brick.

“For me it all boils down to that hard dollar amount; what they have prioritized as far as the budget?” Governing Board President Barbara Perleberg said.

“What I would take back to the community is, if unforeseen costs come up the expectation is under this budget, not over this budget, you’ll have to find something to give up if you want this facade and to pay for it.”

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at or can be followed on Twitter at

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