Total revitalization of Cherokee Elementary School appears likely

Architect and construction officials recommended a complete rebuild of Cherokee Elementary School, built in 1974. (File photo)

Cherokee Elementary School should be rebuilt in order to meet established desires and criteria for the local school, architect and construction officials told Scottsdale Unified School District officials.

On Thursday, April 11, Tom O’Neil of Orcutt Winslow and officials of Core Construction presented their findings to the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board during a study session meeting.

The official opinion is to rebuild the school.

“We are recommending a replacement of Cherokee, rather than a renovation with high innovation,” Orcutt Winslow Senior Associate Tom O’Neil said to SUSD officials. Mr. O’Neil is the client leader and architect of record for this project, and has been involved with other SUSD campus rebuild projects as well.

Cherokee Elementary School, 8801 N. 56th Street in the Town of Paradise Valley, was selected in October 2018 as the school district’s next bond project.

The Governing Board is expected to have a formal vote on approving the rebuild at their regular meeting, Tuesday, April 16, at Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave.

After a $226 million bond was passed by voters in November 2016, SUSD has been steadily renovating and rebuilding crumbling infrastructure across its 29 campuses. Prior, Hopi Elementary School and Pima Traditional School were rebuilt, while Cheyenne Traditional School saw campus upgrades and improvements.

Also on April 16, district officials are expected to recommend moving forward with Hohokam Elementary School as the next project to follow Cherokee. Kiva and Pueblo elementary schools are also in that conversation, Superintendent Dr. John Kriekard said.

Orcutt Winslow received the green light for the project at a Dec. 11, 2018 meeting and began hosting several community outreach meetings.

In March, the school board selected Core Construction for pre-construction services for the Cherokee Elementary School project from five companies that submitted bids.

A diagram shows initial ideas for how Cherokee Elementary School’s campus could be rebuilt. (Graphic by Orcutt Winslow)

Time and cost estimations

On Tuesday, the Governing Board will vote to move forward with the recommended campus rebuild, or choose another alternative. Afterwards, the hired architect firm is expected to begin campus devising design and project cost scenarios.

Tom O’Neil

“We would like to come back to the board in June, and share with you the progress of the design and some cost updates at that point,” Mr. O’Neil said.

A timeline presented at the meeting shows design development occurring from May through September 2019, followed by Town of Paradise Valley approval and establishing a guaranteed maximum price in the fall.

Phase one of construction is estimated to start in January 2020, the timeline projects, with an estimated competition date of March 2021.

Dr. Kriekard described Cherokee’s project as “complex” based on the amount of concrete at the site and its lack of access.

The construction officials did not present an exact price tag for Cherokee’s rebuild, although it is expected that depending on how classrooms and square feet is planned for the school, the cost would be similar to past projects. Additionally, a projected 12.77% construction cost escalation is expected.

While Hopi’s project cost around $18 million, and Pima’s rebuild cost around $16 million, Core Construction Pre-Construction Manager Mike Pilkington says in “today’s dollars” the projects would be about $20 million-$22 million.

Mr. Pilkington and John Tomasson, Core Construction’s senior project manager, have also been involved with SUSD’s other rebuild projects.

“What we’re looking at right now with all of that data, is it is appearing to be — with everything, with all of our cost history, all of our cost data — looking at Hopi, Pima, looking at the consultant’s recommendations, right now the renovation is slightly more expensive,” Mr. Pilkington said, pointing out about a 2 percent cost difference between renovation versus rebuild.

The increase in cost can be attributed to how much longer it would take to renovate the building, working around students and staff, Mr. Pilkington said. He explained to the Governing Board the rebuild would be complete in three phases, while a renovation would take six phases.

“We could only do, like, two classroom building pods at a time,” Mr. Pilkington. “To have contractors come in to the site, do their job, leave and then come back; and all of these mobilizations and labor does drive costs up.”

To the same point, Mr. Tomasson gave an example of how replacing plumbing on campus would be more efficient for a rebuild, whereas in the renovation it is more labor intensive to work within the established building.

“It’s little bites of time that are going to take up time and money, because you’re doing nothing but small work inside existing buildings,” Mr. Tomasson said.

Cherokee Elementary School (photo courtesy of SUSD)

Renovate vs. Rebuild

During the past several months of community meetings and forums with school officials and neighbors, six criteria areas were developed. They are: Security, circulation and wayfinding, uniquely Cherokee, pods, flexibility and learning space performance.

If SUSD chose to renovate Cherokee’s campus, only two of the six criteria would be met: Uniquely Cherokee and pods.

Demolishing and rebuilding the campus would meet all six criteria, the hired hands say.

The designs presented by Orcutt Winslow at the meetings are still a work in progress, said Project Architect Scott Sowinski prior to showing how the rebuild would move forward during the school year.

The new classroom buildings would be built outside of the existing campus envelope during the first phase of construction, allowing students to stay in their current classrooms until after the new spaces are built.

Next, the two southern pods would be demolished allowing for space to build the remaining balance of the new campus.

Remaining aspects of campus, including parking, basketball and tennis courts and ball fields would be built afterward.

“The take homes of this was that security, the line of site is better, the level of transparency; you’ll be able to get, the controlled points of entry — the other option, as it is now, all of the doors to get into those classroom buildings are on the perimeter, so there’s 25 doors to get into one of those pods,” Mr. Sowinski said.

“In lock-down procedures or whatever it might be, there’s some things to overcome. In a new facility, you’ll be able to say here’s our lock-in vestibule. Once you’re on campus, you’re on campus.”

The Governing Board members asked questions relating to the project, such as clarifying some of the cost points projected, timeline and reason for selecting a different style of campus than previous rebuilds.

The SUSD Governing Board includes, from left, Sandy Kravetz, Allyson Beckham and Barbara Perleberg. (File photo)

“We were informed that the safest type of school in the current environment is the one-room school house. It’s the safest and most energy efficient, and we just built our two most recent schools that way. Here, we’re looking at the garden style with individual buildings,” Governing Board Vice President Allyson Beckham said.

Mr. O’Neil responded by saying that the layout of the campus will create a perimeter around the core of the campus, thus creating an environment equally as safe as the single building style campus.

The school has 817 students at this time.

Cherokee Elementary School Principal Walter Chantler asked to speak at the end of the discussion, giving praise to the architect and construction manager.

Walter Chantler (Photo by SUSD)

“I didn’t want this day to go by without me having an opportunity to come up here and endorse these great companies,” Mr. Chanlter said.

“When Orcutt first came to meet the faculty and meet with the visioning committee, they said something I’ve remembered: Whether it be high innovation, renovation or replacement, we’re going to draw it out of you. They really have done that, they’ve been so collaborative.”

Mr. Chantler says the architects have spent a lot of time on campus to look at what makes Cherokee special.

“I completely endorse both of these organizations — you’re not hearing anything from our community because they’re very happy,” he said.

Hohokam Elementary School is being reconsidered for improvements. (file photo)

Looking forward

Superintendent Dr. John Kriekard says the district needs to continue to plan to move forward with the next projects, pointing out the escalating cost of construction in the future.

Dr. Kriekard says district officials will be recommending on Tuesday, April 16, the next projects to be completed with bond money as Hohokam Elementary School, followed closely by Kiva and Pueblo elementary schools.

Superintendent Dr. John Kriekard. (File photo)

“We believe that Hohokam has been at the top of the matrix the two times we did it, it is a site that Mr. (Dennis) Roehler has said will cost us if we start school next year with students in it without a plan for remodeling or rebuilding,” Dr. Kriekard said.

“It’s going to cost us, just in HVAC alone, several hundred thousand dollars probably because of work that needs to be done there.”

Dr. Kriekard says similar community outreach is expected to be done for Hohokam, and he wants to begin that process before construction costs increase further.

The district is not proposing they know what types of projects are needed at the next three schools without asking the communities what they want, Dr. Kriekard said.

“We’ll go through the same type of process, renovate or rebuild, do a feasibility study, move forward,” he said. “We’ll do that with all three of those. The order we propose is Hohokam now, and then looking at the other two schools to be next.”

However, Dr. Kriekard went out on a limb to say it would be difficult to renovate Pueblo.

If the board approves Hohokam on April 16, the district will plan to move the school’s staff and students to the Yavapai Elementary School campus, Dr. Kriekard said.

“Our plan is, if you approve on Tuesday night, then, we will for the start of next school year, move Hohokam staff and students to Yavapai campus to be combined with Yavapai, so that as soon as the planning is at the point to start construction, we won’t have to wait until a winter break or summer break to start construction,” the superintendent said.

Dr. Kriekard says the size of Hohokam’s campus and conditions of the building would make it difficult to work on the school in phases, allowing students to remain while work is completed.

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

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