Scottsdale school board gets first blush at hefty bond project

A view of the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board and top district officials listening to an architectural presentation on Dec. 8 at Mohave Middle School. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

One month after the election, the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board took its first glimpse at the voter-approved bond project worth $229 million — one that has been promised to touch all 30 schools.

During 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 the five elected board members and the two incoming members, whom had been invited to sit-in on the conversation.

The Dec. 8 study session was held at the Mohave Middle School campus, 8500 E. Jackrabbit Road Ave.

Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell said she would like to hear from the board at the next regular board meeting, Tuesday, Dec. 13, as to which two projects are deemed top priority.

The Scottsdale Unified School District operates 30 schools located within three municipalities: Scottsdale, Phoenix and Paradise Valley. In November, district voters approved a $229 million bond to supplement funding that has been cut at the state and federal level in recent years.

District officials are saying that repairs and related prices the bond is earmarked for include:

  • Eight elementary schools need to be re-built; 56.6 percent
  • 22 schools need life cycle improvements; 21.5 percent
  • 9 schools need learning environment re-models; 9.2 percent
  • Transportation updates in all five learning communities; 2.6 percent
  • Security upgrades at every school; 3.3 percent
  • Physical education and athletics needs at all five high schools; 6.8 percent

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

Despite multiple on-going projects that will begin to take place in coming months, all district officials agree the most important component is the students.

“The greatest challenge in rebuild, is to not interrupt learning,” said Dr. Birdwell at the Dec. 8 meeting.

It takes a village

During the Dec. 8 study session Dr. Birdwell and Chief Financial Officer Daniel O’Brien discussed the responsibilities of the board and other committees that will be working together.

A member of the study session audience listens during the SUSD study session Dec. 8. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

“The superintendent and staff we’ll be here,” said Dr. Birdwell. “We are your arms, your legs, your feet. We get out there and get the work done.”

Responsibilities of the staff including presenting the bond budget balances, strategic plans, implementation of projects, and selection of bond committee, among other duties.

A district design team will also be composed, said Dr. Birdwell, of the superintendent or a designee, and the school principal, architectural firm and others.

“I’ve been in school districts where they forgot to ask the IT guy about IT, and the infrastructure was too weak to handle the teaching environment,” she said.

“So you never want to skip one of these critical people.”

On the public side, forums and community input will be a part of the process throughout the course of the projects.

“It doesn’t stop with just the district level team, there’s full community input,” explained Dr. Birdwell. “The CFO will meet with the principal, three teachers representing that campus with at least three parents and some community at large to discuss the design.”

Once the design is complete, forums open to the public will take place. Through all the planning, the final decision is in the hands of the Governing Board.

At the Dec. 8 study session, the board participated in a filtering system made-up of:

  • Building age;
  • Campus enrollment;
  • Operational health;
  • And life cycle cost.

Once the first couple of schools begin work, other factors could come into play, said Dr. Birdwell.

“For instance, we just surveyed the Hohokam community on whether or not they want to be a K-8 or not,” said Dr. Birdwell.

“That’s a piece that needs to be taken into consideration because rather than just a straight re-build of K-5, now you’re talking a gymnasium so that changes the scope of the job.”

Based upon the superintendent’s filtering system, the five board members and board member-elected Allyson Beckham and Sandy Kravetz, average ranking showed Hohokam Traditional School to be most in-need, and a tie with Pima and Hopi elementary schools for second in-need.

“To start the process you’re looking for the first two projects. You need to hire a construction firm, you need to hire an architectural firm, we need to make sure you’re dealing with appropriate communication with the timeframe,” said Dr. Birdwell.

Last spring the Governing Board began flushing out the itemized list of needs each school has. Top officials conducted meetings with each school principal before presenting the board with a draft list of needs ranging from gyms and science labs, to a new roof.

Items used as examples last May included completely rebuilding Cherokee Elementary, which comes with asbestos issues; security needs at Mohave Middle School; and replacing the roof at Coronado High School, which comes with the cost associated with carefully removing and replacing solar panels.

Hohokam Traditional School was used as an example during the study session as a top priority for the bond project. The school was built in 1960. (file photo)

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

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