More than 1,000 Hopi Elementary School community members have signed a petition to stop the construction to rebuild their school, set forth by a $229 million bond last year.
Issues anchoring the petition range from the overall look and design of the school, to flooding concerns along with traffic and parking questions.
Hopi Elementary School, 5110 E. Lafayette Blvd. in Phoenix, was selected as rebuild No. 1 on Dec. 13, 2016 — one month after Scottsdale Unified School District voters approved the bond. It was deemed a priority because of its aging and crowded campus, board members explained during last year’s December meeting.
Officials earmarked the money for various improvements, upgrades and replacements throughout the district but the largest sum was to rebuild failing infrastructure in eight elementary schools.
A rebuild committee for Hopi Elementary School comprised of local residents and school officials was created to help the design process. During a Sept. 27 community meeting held at Hopi Elementary School, many parents and local residents attended to ask questions and voice their opinion on the project. To the dismay of many in attendance, the architect assigned to Hopi Elementary School, Hunt and Caraway Architects, and Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell were not in attendance.
Dr. Birdwell was out-sick, according to district officials.
The Sept. 27 community meeting included a handful of SUSD officials and two representatives from Core Construction. Parent, school neighbor and rebuild committee member Chris Janson spoke to the audience of about 50 people in the elementary school auditorium, explaining the process they were involved in, describing the building envelope as “pretty well set.”
“All people on this committee were very focused on architecture and wanting to understand the architecture, and we weren’t happy with the architecture from the very beginning of what we thought — some of you may have been to some of the board meetings and heard that we thought it looked like a Taco Bell. It just didn’t pop,” he explained.
“Over the last 30-45 days we feel like the architect has done a good job of working with Core and inside of their budget of what they’re given, to come up with something that we generally accept.”
A Change.org petition to stop the construction — which was set to begin with fencing last Saturday, Sept. 30 — was created on Sunday, Oct. 1, by Karen Treon. As of Oct. 4, the petition has 1,273 signatures.
“SUSD voters approved $229 million in taxpayer funds to be spent on aging school facilities in our district. This should have been an exciting time for our community,” Ms. Treon wrote on the petition. “Instead, SUSD is railroading through a rebuild of Hopi Elementary School — the first bond rebuild project. The plans have been made without stakeholder input. The drawings seem better suited for a dated strip mall than for a school.”
Ms. Treon’s concerns also include hydrology and storm run-off, traffic, design review and permitting.
“The list of the things that have not been considered is too long to include in a brief change.org petition,” she said. “Residents and neighbors have vocally opposed these plans. The Board must act immediately to cease all construction-related activities while it addresses these very serious deficiencies and concerns with adjacent property owners, stakeholders, the city of Phoenix and other concerned citizens.”
Ms. Treon ends the petition by stating that continuing to spend taxpayer dollars on a project with so many questions and concerns is “beyond irresponsible.”
How we got here
During a Dec. 8 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.
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 Sept. 27 Hopi Elementary School community meeting included a final walk through of the construction phase timeline, artist renderings of the proposed design, and time for a question-and-answer period, where many parents raised questions and voiced frustration regarding the look, process and lack of community input. 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.
School parent and Hopi rebuild committee member Andrew Seidenberg says the committee met several times and has had input on many aspects of the project.
“We have met 17 times for a combination of approximately 30 hours, which doesn’t include engagement outside our formal rebuild committee meetings,” he said in an Oct. 4 emailed response to questions. “Many of us have had private conversations, emails, and community meetings to do the best job possible to represent our community. Many of the meetings included the experts like the architect, construction team, and district representatives like Dr. Birdwell.
“The committee has had input on many items. Our insight led to new placement of the Kindergarten classrooms, increased playgrounds, additional gardens, a completely renovated multipurpose building that will now be added to many other schools in the future, a baseball field, hallway changes for better flow, continued changes on elevations, and much more.”
Mr. Seidenberg says the goal of the committee was to be an extension of those in the community.
Concerns from 1,000 community members
She says the most common concerns include windowless classrooms, shifting access from Lafayette Boulevard to Rubicon Avenue, concerns about flooding and an savory design.
“There are many people who do not feel the current design serves the community’s needs or blends with the surrounding neighborhood,” she said in an Oct. 3 emailed response to questions. “I have heard it referred to as a ‘prison’ or a ‘factory.’”
Ms. Gilbert had four children go through the school, and her husband and his siblings were also Hopi Hawks. The amount of signatures the petition has received in just a matter of days signifies the many stakeholders who are not satisfied with the final design, she said.
“We fought hard for these bond dollars, and very much want to bring a new, modern facility to our neighborhood,” she explained. “We know the old buildings have many problems. It is time. But we want to make sure we build a new school (and the accompanying fields and playgrounds) that will serve the learning needs of students for the next 40 years, while keeping with the character and charm of the Arcadia neighborhood. We are asking only for a pause.”
Additional concerns, Ms. Gilbert says, are that too much of the small site is paved with driveways and parking lots, removal or reduction of ball fields and lights and not historic or matching materials that blend with the rest of the neighborhood.
“This project seems to be on the fast track… yet designs were largely complete before community input was requested,” she said. “To some Hopi community members, this seems backwards. We know we are building a school to last 40-50 years — let’s make sure we take all of the unique challenges inherent in Hopi’s site — and do it right.”
Statements from Scottsdale’s leaders
Just before 5 p.m. on Oct. 4, Dr. Birdwell released a statement regarding the fever pitch reached within the Hopi Elementary community.
Dr. Birdwell penned a three-and-a-half page letter, included a table comparing Hopi campus space and the proposed design, and a map showing bicycle and pedestrian routes. In addition, a parent forum has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 16, at Hopi Elementary.
“We hear you,” Dr. Birdwell said in the prepared statement. “Please know that we value your feedback on the new Hopi Elementary School design.”
The statement says the district is not changing the school footprint, but they are willing to continue to improve design elements with continuing feedback from the community.
“Just in the last week, as the result of listening and hearing your feedback, the baseball field has been brought back into the design, outdoor teaching spaces have been added, and an additional bike path has been added on the north side,” the prepared statement said. “These changes are in addition to the improvements already made by listening to the input of committee members and the community over the last six months.”
Dr. Birdwell’s statement addresses input, natural light, myth-busting, additional classroom building design notes, traffic, enrollment, flood traffic and starting over.
“The addition of outdoor learning spaces is a direct result of community concerns about natural light in classrooms,” Dr. Birdwell said in the statement.
“Natural light was made a priority in this design, but there were also some unique challenges. In order to remain a single-story building and maintain fields and play space on the amount of acreage we have, we do have a classroom building with interior rooms.”
There are six classrooms out of the 32, which do not have windows and will instead of 2-foot by 2-foot dimmable skylights. The other 26 classrooms have two 5-foot by 5-foot windows, and the science classroom has one window and a door with a window, the superintendent stated.
Regarding flood control, the new design provides flood control through underground water retention with a capacity of 96,940, gallons, according Dr. Birdwell.
“We have combined our current use of flood irrigation with a sprinkler system to provide optimal turf growth,” she said in the statement. “We have the option to receive or not receive the flood irrigation. It has been monitored and used in the past, and will continue in the future.”
In regards to traffic, the number of parking spaces and length of on-campus traffic lanes for drop off/pick up are determined through city codes and fire lane requirements, Dr. Birdwell’s statement says.
“The district continues to meet with the city about the placement of the entrance on Rubicon, but ultimately, it will be up to the city to decide how to handle access and egress,” she said in the statement. “We will continue to work with city traffic engineering, which determines traffic control methods.”
The day prior to Dr. Birdwell’s statement to the community, Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane publicly endorsed the superintendent through a statement to the Scottsdale Independent.
“There is hardly any greater area of importance in our city than our schools and the opportunities they present for Scottsdale’s children,” Mayor Lane said in the prepared statement. “I wish Dr. Birdwell and the school board the very best in their efforts, and encourage everyone in Scottsdale to constructively engage in this critical process.”