Hundreds of students and 75 teachers and staff who call 56-year-old Hopi Elementary School home look to be the first cohort of Scottsdale Schools to get a financial shot-in-the-arm.
The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board unanimously voted at its Dec. 13 regular board meeting to move forward with the first two infrastructure projects stemming from a voter-approved $229 million bond.
The Governing Board’s regular meeting took place at Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave.
At its Dec. 8 study session, district officials and two architectural firms — Hunt and Caraway and Orcutt Winslow — presented sample plans, timelines and school information to outline how the staggered construction process could look for different schools.
The discussion of an all-encompassing district bond project officially began in March following a district-wide facilities master plan whereas The Blue Ribbon Advisory Council, a collection of both district and community stakeholders, presented the Governing Board with its final recommendation on how to meet the tenets of the recent plan.
Within its final report, the advisory council suggested the school district ought to pursue a bond election to rebuild the district’s elementary schools. The advisory council’s recommendations included:
- Rebuilding all SUSD elementary schools;
- Providing properly sized learning environments for students and teachers based on enrollment tallies;
- Taking into account cyclical trends of enrollments, neighborhood integrity, traffic patterns, and improved property use.
Hopi Elementary School, 5110 E. Lafayette Blvd. in Phoenix, was chosen as the No. 1 priority because of its aging and crowded campus board members explained during the meeting.
Hohokam Traditional School, 8451 E. Oak Street in Scottsdale, was chosen as second in-line, although work will not begin for another four to six months, Dr. Birdwell said.
“Hopi is a 21-month process,” said Dr. Birdwell at the Dec. 13 meeting. “We want to get that thing out of the chute and up and running.”
The next steps the district will pursue include contracting an architectural team, partaking in a design process and community outreach.
More than nuts and bolts
The Hohokam Traditional School project will include more than just rebuilding the school, district officials contend.
Dr. Birdwell predicts the Hohokam School re-build would take about 16 to 18 months due to a more flexible plot of land.
“If you approved one rebuild, we would start into a design process right away,” said Dr. Birdwell as she explained a method to stagger the projects. “The first design gets up and running and about four to six months later you start the second design.”
Dr. Birdwell and top district staff recommended Hohokam be the second project because of multiple stakeholder conversations that will be laced within the rebuild.
“Hopi is in over-crowding,” said Dr. Birdwell at the Dec. 13 meeting. “There’s not much conversation to have around Hopi. Hopi is easier for us to say look, it probably should be your No. 1 project.”
The district has been surveying the community to see if they want Hohokam to become a kindergarten through eighth grade school, which Dr. Birdwell says, has been coming back very positive.
“We’re out in the community right now asking about their desire to be K-8,” she said. “It’s coming back very positive that the community would like a K-8. That shifts the design from what you’re currently thinking. If it goes to K-8 does that mean it’s open to others as well? So there’s deeper conversations to have at that time.”
Dr. Birdwell contends that within the design process of these projects, there is additional reviews of enrollment data, program reviews and impacts on other sites.
“We really need to look at the whole Granite Reef Corridor and have some discussions,” Dr. Birdwell said. “In most of the schools along the corridor, anywhere from 80-85 percent of the students are from their local neighborhood. But then you have another 15 percent that are from various places and I think it’s really important for the board to study that and understand it.”
Governing Board member Pam Kirby expressed the difficulty in planning the future for the district.
“I’m torn,” Ms. Kirby said.
“Hohokam with pre-k is sitting at 491 (students), Yavapai with pre-k is at 392 (students), so we have two schools 2.2 miles from each other that are below the 500 (student) minimum. And then 2.2 miles to the west we have another school sitting vacant. So my problem is I don’t know what I’m building, what I’m approving for that area to look like in the future and that’s what I’m struggling with to say this school is going first, when I don’t know where I’m going.”
Governing board member Barbara Perleberg says these issues the board is talking about have been bubbling up for years. The unique problems south Scottsdale faces in regards to its student enrollment, school success and campuses have not gotten better over the years, she says.
“Our schools were facing these questions for at least eight years or more,” said Ms. Perleberg. “And, so here we are finally. These are conversations our community has had to have for a very long time.”
Ms. Perleberg says she is excited to move forward after all this time.
“As you stated, as living there I well know, the enrollments are very intertwined and it’s a very complicate scenario where no great two puzzle pieces fit together and we’ve known that for a long time,” she said to Dr. Birdwell at the meeting.
“I think it is incredibly important that we highlight tonight that whatever decision is made — if a first step is discussed or at least a first little baby step is made — in discussions to the Granite Reef Corridor and the Coronado Complex, and the Saguaro Complex because it’s all connected.”
In the new year, Dr. Birdwell predicts the Governing Board will be presented with additional, smaller projects.
“In January it’s really important to talk about other projects — we just took you through a few rebuilds but we have some other pieces that go simultaneously to the rebuild,” she said. “That is looking at some tracks and football fields that aren’t usable right now; that kids can’t play. We have some other schools that have academic and safety needs.”