Parents, students, younger siblings and staff members nearly filled Mesa Junior High School's auditorium Tuesday night to hear why that school is being recommended for closure at the end of the 2011-2012 school year.
About 300 people were present for the first of two public hearings on the Mesa Unified School District's recommendations to demolish Mesa Junior and close Brimhall Junior High School as a neighborhood school. The district is proposing moving students from Franklin Northeast, Franklin South and Franklin Junior High schools to the Brimhall campus.
District officials presented ideas late last month to address low enrollment -- with more than 4,000 empty seats -- in Mesa's 13 junior highs.
Mesa Junior is the district's oldest junior high school. It is also in great need of repair - to the tune of more than $4 million, according to the district. Superintendent Mike Cowan said the city would consider creating a sports facility on the Mesa Junior campus should it be closed.
But closing such a historical site was one issue parents and former students brought up during the hearing.
"There is history in the very walls of this campus. Many students have attended this school and are now successful and look back on their junior high fondly," said Mesa High School student Agata Lenard, a former Mesa Junior student. "Demolishing it would only cause chaos for the community."
Parent Christina Barraza wanted to know why the school needs so many repairs.
"I remember renovations at Kino (Junior High). I recall renovations at Westood (High School). I don't recall a renovation at Mesa (Junior). Why is it now ... that you're comparing it to a vehicle that's not worth fixing? Why did we let it go?" Barraza said, evoking applause from the crowd. "We've got young families in the vicinity. There are more families buying homes ... Let's keep this open. We have all these younger generations that are going to go here."
The district completed renovations on the Mesa Junior campus between 2005 and 2010, including the kitchen, roofing, and covered walkways. The district spent about $400,000 on the projects.
Another concern addressed by several Mesa Junior High parents is the school's proximity to where they live. Its closure could produce a problem for students who participate in after-school activities because families don't have transportation.
"Most of the kids who are here walk home. How are you going to transport for after-school activities? Have you put that into consideration?" parent Louise Romero asked the governing board. "I have five children. I will not - will not -- send them to Kino (Junior High)."
Many Franklin parents said they prefer the small environment of the Franklin schools and do not want the three schools combined on a big campus at Brimhall.
"Quality will be lost when you increase the quantity of the education," said parent and educator Liz Purtell. "I think it is foolish to think you'll attract home school families ... Franklin is competitive because of what it has to offer. One of those things it has to offer is a positive school climate. You have a school close to homes. We can go there to help during the day. We know the teachers. We know the kids in the area."
Purtell and other Franklin parents said they do not want to put their children on buses for a long period of time to get to school. She said she already enrolled her high school student outside the Mesa district because of the size of the high schools.
"I think you're losing part of what's attractive in Mesa Public Schools," she said.
In addition to about a dozen speakers from the audience, there were about two dozen more comments submitted and read to the audience by governing board members. Most stated that they did not want Mesa Junior High closed because of the culture and pride on campus.
A second hearing will be held Oct. 18 at Brimhall. A decision could be made as early as Nov. 8. If the decision is made to close any schools, a separate district committee will propose new boundaries for the remaining junior highs.
For more information, see the district's website www.mpsaz.org/future.
Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune