A group of teachers, students and business leaders is looking at Mesa Unified School District’s 87 schools to help identify immediate facility needs and craft a long-term plan as the aging district continues to see stagnant or declining enrollment.
The facilities planning committee will meet again 6 p.m. Thursday. The group has been charged with looking at five “Rs” — remodel, renovate, replace, remove and repurpose — Superintendent Mike Cowan said, as the district mulls the possibility of a November bond issue.
“That includes things like preventative maintenance, long-term maintenance, the age and life of the buildings, and places a lot of educational and financial factors for this committee to evaluate before they make recommendations to the school board,” Cowan said.
One reason the district is looking at a bond issue is because facility funding from the state has dried up, Cowan said. For a while, Arizona provided funds to offset costs of remodeling, school construction and preventative maintenance. But lawmakers stopped that with the economic crisis, so districts once again are looking to voters to approve larger bond packages to keep buildings in working order.
Mesa’s list of most urgent facility needs includes nearly $37 million for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) replacement, nearly $22 million for plumbing repairs and replacement, $14 million for roofing recoats and replacements and $9.6 million for kitchen repairs and remodeling.
With some of its aging campuses, district leaders have said it’s really become a question of whether to repair or replace.
In addition to the age of buildings, the district has lost thousands of students over the past few years. In 2010, the governing board closed Powell Junior High School and several smaller sites. The district has “repurposed” some campuses, adding new programs for students and parents.
Mesa Junior High School will close in May. Brimhall Junior High School will close as a neighborhood school and be used to house several Franklin schools, a popular back-to-basics offering in the district.
Mesa City Council member Dave Richins, who serves on the district’s facilities committee, told a city and school joint meeting last week that the district has done a lot of work.
“I’m impressed with the data they’ve collected to be prepared with how Mesa (district) goes forward with a pretty stagnant population. There doesn’t look like there’s going to be a ton of kids” in the future, Richins said.
Besides the campus buildings, the district is also looking at what to do with 436 portable buildings in use that provide, “8,000 or 9,000 too many spaces,” Richins said.
But, “just pulling of the portables isn’t going to get you there,” Richins told the group. “I think a few elementary schools are going to have to close. It’s not an easy decision.”
On Thursday, the district is bringing in architects and consultants to give an “outside” view of facility repair and construction costs, as well as enrollment trends, Cowan said. A group will also discuss bonds and taxation.
Up until now, the group has analyzed data school by school, looked at historic population trends and estimated preventative maintenance costs by each school.
The facilities committee has come up with a few ideas on what could be done, Cowan said, but it’s not to the recommendation stage yet.
“After we’ve done all this stuff Thursday on bonds and taxation and costs, we’ll compare that information with the initial suggestions and then start really formulizing an informed plan to recommend to the governing board for a decision in June,” Cowan said.
Maricopa County school districts have until June 6 to inform the county superintendent’s office of intentions to put a bond issue on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The Mesa facilities committee is scheduled to meet three more times, once every two weeks through May, in the governing board room at 549 N. Stapley Drive. For information, see mpsaz.org.
While city and school leaders are working together on possible joint recreation projects at some school sites, the facilities planning committee is primarily looking at education uses, Cowan said.
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