Navajo Elementary fire fuels further Scottsdale Schools consolidation undertones

Navajo Elementary School is closed temporarily due to an Aug. 22 fire. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Navajo Elementary School is going to be closed through next school year, at the least, Scottsdale Unified school District officials say, due to smoke, water and asbestos damage.

An overall decision on what steps to next take for the future of Navajo Elementary School, which include restoring, rebuilding or consolidating the campus, is being rolled into a larger conversation regarding bond money and enrollment numbers, district officials say.

After an isolated fire broke out overnight in the school’s storage room on Aug. 22, forcing school closure for one day, students and teachers were moved to Oak Learning Academy three miles away. Teachers and staff lost most everything within the school for the immediate time, Acting Superintendent Dr. John Kriekard says, and items taken out of the school will need to be thoroughly cleaned.

On Friday, Aug. 31, the Scottsdale Fire Department said no determination has been made at this time as to the cause of fire. Lori Schmidt, a spokeswoman at Scottsdale Fire, says there isn’t a typical time line for determining the cause of fire.

During a Thursday, Aug. 30 Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board meeting, Dr. Kriekard told district leaders that due to damage caused by the fire and sprinkler system — and the amount of asbestos now present in the building — it would be many months before Navajo could re-open.

(Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Dr. Kriekard noted the severity of the damage was apparent the day of the fire.

Cost to repair the three classroom buildings that suffered fire, smoke and water damage is estimated to be at least $3.5 million, officials say.

The immediate closure of Navajo, coupled with a planned discussion on school consolidation, presents SUSD an opportunity to decide its next steps, Dr. Kriekard said during the meeting.

According to school officials, Navajo Elementary has about 400 students. The future of the school campus will be a part of an overall Governing Board discussion as it considers which schools will be the next to be rebuilt with the 2016 $229 million bond.

As part of the bond conversation, school officials have planned to discuss options including consolidating schools with enrollments of less than 500 students. Consultants are due to report to the Governing Board on these matters in October.

“We told the Navajo teachers and Navajo community last night that they will be at the Oak Street property for at least the remainder of this school year,” Dr. Kriekard told the Governing Board.

Dr. Kriekard says he told the Navajo community there are three options the Governing Board evaluate:

  • Restore the school
  • Rebuild the school
  • Consolidate the school

Dr. Kriekard says to restore the school, which would include replacing numerous items, could have the students and teachers back on the Navajo campus by fall break 2019.

“Restoring — our best guess, again, at this point, from Dennis working with adjusters and having been through the building to look at the damage itself — is in the neighborhood of $3.5 million,” Dr. Kriekard said.

“Plus, money from the insurance… So, let’s say that might be, total in the $5 million to $6 million range; whereas a rebuild, $18 million is what we spent on Hopi and Pima.”

Dr. Kriekard says Navajo is still on the inaugural list for school rebuilds, a topic set for discussion on Oct. 4.

Hired consultant, Dr. Walter “Skip” Brown, is evaluating existing data, meeting with stakeholders, monitoring the total bond package as is and participating and presenting in meetings as required.

He plans to deliver a report summarizing services provided and recommendation of future bond program management initiatives by the first week of October.

“The third option is consolidation,” Dr. Kriekard explained.

Navajo Elementary School is at 4525 N. Granite Reef Road. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

“Consolidation would mean at the end of this school year, if you so choose, for whichever schools we consolidate we’ll be looking at attendance boundary changes and disbursement of the students from the school, whichever school that is, into the school they’re consolidating. That would be more immediate. If Navajo was one of those schools, they’d live the rest of the year at Oak and then be at their new school in the fall.”

Scottsdale Schools’ insurance company had taken random samples from the three wings affected by the fire.

“The smoke went through all of the ventilation system, the asbestos was exposed and was carried by the smoke,” Dr. Kriekard explained of how the school wad damaged so heavily.

“Sometimes in fires you find an area that was slightly effected, they might find a handful of asbestos fibers — these samples, none of them had less than 7,000 fibers.”

Director of Facilities Management Dennis Roehler told the Governing Board that’s considered a lot.

Asbestos abatement is costly and timely, Dr. Kriekard says.

“In the meantime there are some things that can be preserved. Nothing leaves that building now without going through the cleaning process,” he said. “Anything that comes out will be asbestos free. There will be inspectors all along the way.”

Today, it is legal to include asbestos in almost all types of American products as long as the product does not contain more than 1 percent asbestos, according to asbestos.com.

However, older buildings and machines can contain high-percentage asbestos products that were manufactured before modern regulations came into effect, the website states.

Navajo Elementary, a kindergarten through fifth grade school, opened in 1960.

Asbestos fibers, once in the body, never dissolve and the body has a difficult time expelling them. Over years of time, trapped asbestos fibers can cause inflammation, scarring and eventually genetic damage to the body’s cells.

In the wake of the fire, the Scottsdale community has banned together to provide Navajo Elementary with supplies and help needed.

A fundraiser is planned for Friday, Aug. 31, at Papa Johns Pizza, 7001 N. Scottsdale Road, suite D. Patrons who mention the school fundraiser will have 20 percent of their purchase donated to Navajo Elementary School.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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