Scottsdale Independent

A fervent Hopi Elementary community remains hopeful rebuild slows

Hopi Elementary School is at 5110 E. Lafayette Blvd. in Phoenix. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect comments made by Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell at an Oct. 17 Regular Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board meeting, stating the Hopi Elementary rebuild project has been put on pause for now. 

A district-comprised, five-member panel was met with a faction of impassioned parents at Hopi Elementary School Monday, Oct. 16 seeking answers about their campus rebuild.

Vehicles packed the parking lot and lined the local streets of Lafayette Boulevard as a group of parents gathered in the elementary school cafeteria with questions regarding the proposed reconstruction of the school.

Several issues have been raised regarding the Hopi rebuild, including many local residents who believe the public has been left-out of the process.

Two weeks after a Sept. 27 meeting took place at Hopi Elementary School, 5110 E. Lafayette Blvd., in Phoenix, a public forum was called by Scottsdale Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell to dispel community concerns.

Dr. Birdwell’s Monday, Oct. 16 meeting drew a large crowd of parents and community members to the school cafeteria to voice their concerns and opinions on the project. The following evening, during a regular Tuesday, Oct. 17 Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board meeting, Dr. Birdwell announced the project had been put on hold.

Hopi’s rebuild was spurred into action following a November 2016 bond election, where SUSD voters approved a $229 million bond — much of which was earmarked for the rebuilding of 1960s elementary schools. Hopi Elementary was chosen first due to its aging buildings and crowded campus.

On the evening of Sept. 27, some SUSD and CORE Construction officials were present to listen to residents and answer questions regarding Hopi’s rebuild. Construction fences were slated to be installed days later on Saturday, Sept. 30.

The September meeting yielded many parents and local residents asking questions and voicing their opinion on the project — to the dismay of many in attendance, Dr. Birdwell and the architect assigned to Hopi Elementary School, Hunt and Caraway Architects, were not in attendance.

Dr. Birdwell was out-sick, according to district officials.

On Sunday, Oct. 1, a Change.org petition was created by Karen Treon, garnering over 1,200 signatures in the first four days.

Ms. Treon’s petition outlined concerns regarding the overall design and lack of stakeholder input during the school-design process, in addition to hydrology and storm run-off, design review and permitting.

Just before 5 p.m. on Oct. 4, Dr. Birdwell released a statement regarding the fever pitch reached within the Hopi Elementary community. She penned a three-and-a-half page letter, including a table comparing Hopi campus space and the proposed design, and a map showing bicycle and pedestrian routes.

Within the letter, Dr. Birdwell noted the district is not changing the school footprint but were willing to continue to improve design elements with continuing feedback from the community.

Parents showed-up on Oct. 16 to see the district, architectural and construction officials behind the project — creating a line of speakers at the microphone.

SUSD created a panel to answer all questions:

So far, $750,000 of a $21 million budget has been spent on the Hopi Elementary rebuild, district officials say.

At the Oct. 17 regular Governing Board meeting, Dr. Birdwell explained her decision behind pausing construction on the school rebuild. The meeting was held at Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave.

“It never astounds me how much I learn from these meetings, no matter how difficult they might be, when you stand back later and reflect what’s your take away?” Dr. Birdwell stated during her Superintendent’s comments portion of the meeting. “There’s no doubt that we had many of those today.”

The project has been put on pause and construction has stopped while district officials look at their options, Dr. Birdwell stated.

“We are compiling a list of possible ways to move forward in our community, in our design for the Hopi school, we are reassessing processes, we are looking at design, we’re looking at timeline, we’re looking at cost of remodel vs complete rebuilds,” she said. “We are making sure that processes are different as we move forward.”

Dr. Birdwell said she is meeting with community members and parents within the next couple of days to talk about options and positives and negatives, prior to bringing the discussion to the Governing Board.

“We have pushed pause, the construction has stopped, ” she said. “We are taking a look at all the different points that were brought out and look forward to coming back to the Governing Board with a deeper discussion.”

A view of the Hopi Elementary School cafeteria on Oct. 16, where a number of parents lined up to ask questions. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

At the board level

During a Dec. 8, 2016, Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board study session, district officials and two architectural firms, Hunt and Caraway and Orcutt Winslow, presented sample plans, timelines and school information to the five elected board members and the two incoming members, whom had been invited to sit-in on the conversation.

The architectural entities who presented sample projects are only two groups who will be pitching the board, Dr. Birdwell said at the time, Independent records show. Hunt and Caraway and Orcutt Winslow’s projects entailed timelines ranging from 12 to 21 months, depending on school and project difficulty.

On Dec. 13, the Governing Board approved on consent the approval to purchase architectural services with Hunt and Caraway. The December agenda states the architectural fees would range from 6.5 to 7.5 percent given the complexity of the project.

On Jan. 17, the Governing Board approved to purchase architectural services with Orcutt-Winslow Architects. The January agenda states Orcutt-Winslow will progress with planning and designing for the remodel and new construction projects on the Cheyenne Traditional School campus.

Orcutt-Winslow’s fees range from 6.5-7.5 percent also.

In an Oct. 4 prepared statement, Dr. Birdwell says the district always follows city and state regulations for procurement, permitting and bid processes.

Earlier this year, on May 4, draft architectural plans for Hopi Elementary were presented to the Governing Board during a study session by Brian Robichaux, president of Hunt and Caraway Architects. District officials say Hopi Elementary is the most challenging of the eight rebuilds, as it houses 850 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Mr. Robichaux’s May plans illustrated an 18-month project, with a budget of $21 million, that would essentially flip its current layout, and include a one-story school building, separate administration building, four playgrounds and three basketball courts. Plans depict athletic fields on the west side of the property, with school buildings on the east. The site will include 32 classrooms, broken into eight pods of four rooms that includes indoor collaboration areas, he said.

First exterior designs presented at the May meeting showed three options that range from Spanish-colonial style, red brick front, to adobe. Mr. Robichaux said he believed the three options would match the surrounding neighborhoods.

Due to illness, Mr. Robichaux has been replaced by Ms. Caraway on the Hopi Elementary project, Dr. Birdwell disclosed at the Oct. 16 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 choose one of the facades, by a date to be determined.

The construction phases estimate an end date of January 2019. New buildings are expected to be open at the beginning of next school year, according to SUSD.org’s timeline.

Mr. Seidenberg told the Independent in an Oct. 4 email that the rebuild committee met 17 times for a combination of approximately 30 hours. He also noted that many of their meetings included experts like the architect, construction team and district representatives.

The committee’s input included new placement of kindergarten classrooms, increased playgrounds, additional gardens, a renovated multipurpose building, a baseball field, hallway changes, and continued changes on the buildings exterior, Mr. Seidenberg said.

Questions across the gamut

During the Oct. 16 meeting, parents and community members asked a range of questions, but most ultimately voiced their opinion to slow the project down.

The audience was vocal in their support and disapproval of myriad conversation topics that ranged from building safety, to the benefit of windows in classrooms, to which neighborhood homes were used as inspiration in the school design.

Longtime Arcadia neighborhood resident and former Hopi Elementary School parent Dan Drake illustrated a number of points relating to Hopi’s design — even comparing the safety aspect to the new rebuild of Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“I think I speak for a lot of others that we support good schools, we support good public schools, and we are willing to tax ourselves to do that,” Mr. Drake explained.

“What we do not appreciate is having something shoved down our throats and being told this is something we wanted or agreed to — it is not. Just a couple of issues I could use to point this out — many of the neighbors, some of who are here tonight, learned for the first time over the last month that Hopi is going to be torn down. That doesn’t sound to me like it involved community outreach.”

Mr. Drake touched on the need for the school to be torn down versus refurbished, and asked about the rebuild committee’s meetings.

“I never saw any minutes from those meetings posted, I never saw any formal agendas from those meetings posted, I never was invited to a public meeting where you briefed the community on what was going on inside those meetings,” he said. “Those to me is not a public process.”

While responding to many questions posed, Dr. Birdwell ultimately told the community that she was taking notes and would look at all suggestions. When asked by Mr. Drake if another public forum would be held, she said, “no.”

“I’m not going to schedule a meeting next week, I’m not going to commit to when I’m going to schedule a meeting because my next meeting will be with the teachers of this school,” Dr. Birdwell responded to Mr. Drake’s inquiry.

“But will I have another public forum? My answer is: no — I don’t need to wait, I’m just going to tell you ‘no.’ I can put 100 of you in a room and we’re not going to get to one design. So, since you’re filming me, and you want it on camera, the answer is ‘no’ ladies and gentlemen.”

Dr. Birdwell went on to state that concerned parents should reach out to the bond rebuild committee. The names of the 10 committee members — five parents and five campus employees — have been public on SUSD’s website, but email addresses were added on Oct. 10.

“It has not been my experience and my practice to have 100 people come into a room and design a school,” Dr. Birdwell explained. “I’m not saying its right or it’s wrong, I’m just being honest with the experience that I’ve had. Clearly, Scottsdale is different — I get it.”

Barbara Perleberg

When asked the question of what the Governing Board would be willing to consider, Ms. Perleberg said the board will take into account all perspectives voiced at the community meeting.

“The question of what the Governing Board will consider is obviously broad — of course it is our job to listen to our community, it is our job to listen to our entire community,” Ms. Perleberg said. “While I appreciate every opinion here tonight, I do assure you as a Governing Board member, I’m fully aware that it is not the exact opinion of every one of your community members in SUSD.”

Hopi’s Elementary’s budget is set, Ms. Perleberg said, noting that a public school budget creates strict parameters.

“We do try very hard to consider all facts, all considerations — our board can absolutely take a look at what has been spent to date, what does that mean for the $21 million budget that Hopi Elementary has,” she said.

“I’m going to stand here and say that’s not changing, that budget — it can’t. We have many other schools waiting to share their love for their campus just as much as you are. There’s a lot for us to consider when we leave tonight.”