An anticipated fifth high school for the growing Gilbert Unified School District is taking a back seat to the district’s need for a 28th elementary school.
The district’s governing board on Tuesday voted 4-1 to move ahead with plans for a new elementary school, which will open in fall 2007 and relieve crowding at Spectrum Elementary School.
Helen Hollands, a board member, apologized to the bond committee and the community for not fulfilling the district’s plan.
“I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place,” Hollands said. “I feel like I’m reneging on the community but we need to provide seats for students who need seats.”
The board also approved a capital plan for the School Facilities Board, requesting the state fund the next high school, which would open in fall of 2010. A new high school is needed to relieve crowding at Mesquite and Gilbert high schools.
A bond issue approved by Gilbert voters last year was expected to fund a list of projects that included a high school, one elementary school and renovations at existing campuses and facilities. But rising construction costs put the district more than $35 million short of completing all of the projects, and administrators had to decide which projects needed to be prioritized and which would have to wait.
Jennifer Oxspring, a parent with children at Spectrum, South Valley Junior High and Mesquite High School, said at a meeting last month that she voted for the bonds with the understanding that a new high school could be built in 2007, rather than waiting several more years for the state to fund it.
Oxspring said Mesquite is already crowded and opportunities to participate in sports or make the school play are “really slim when you’ve got that many students.”
While she’d like to see a new high school sooner, Oxspring understands that a new elementary school is also necessary.
“I think (Spectrum) is) a great school, (with a) great principal, but it’s getting too large,” she said, noting that the school added more portable classrooms this year and some parents have decided to give their kids in home schooling or enroll them in charter schools because of the size.
The district’s 27th elementary school, Highland Park, opened this fall.
Both the 28th elementary school and fifth high school will be north of Germann between Lindsay Road and Val Vista Drive, on a 70-acre parcel already owned by the district.
Clyde Dangerfield, assistant superintendent for business services, said most Gilbert is in the southern and eastern areas of the district.
It’s easier to accommodate more high school students at existing facilities than to handle overcrowded elementary schools, he said.
Before the bond election, the new high school was estimated to cost $15 million. Current estimates put it at $28 million.
By waiting for the state to fund the next high school, he said, the district can use the $15 million in bond money to supplement the state funding to furnish the high school with extras the state doesn’t fund.
The district also had $31 million built into the bond projects for “other school improvements,” about half of which was set aside for contingency, Dangerfield said. With those contingency funds, and by waiting for the state to fund a high school, the district should be able to complete the rest of its bond projects, he said.
“It’s not a question of whether it’s going to be built,” Dangerfield said of the high school. “It’s a matter of timing and whose money should go into it first.”
Spectrum principal Michael Hallock said his elementary school opened in 2003 with 500 students. It was built to handle 1,100 students, but already has 1,200 — about 75 more than last year. Four portables were added this year, for a total of six. With several housing developments and apartment complexes in the school’s boundary under way, the school is looking at 800 more students in the next couple of years.
“We have made it work,” Hallock said. “We’re very happy. But when you look at 800 more students, you’re looking at something that wouldn’t work as well.”