The first projects to be paid for by a recently approved $230 million school bond program in Mesa could include the demolition of Mesa Junior High School buildings and the purchase of 66 propane-operated vehicles, leaders said Tuesday night.
Mesa Unified School District’s Bobette Sylvester outlined the possible projects during a study session to the five-member board.
Voters in the district approved the bond measure in November. Now the district is trying to determine which projects should be started after the first sale in April of about $46 million in bonds.
School districts in Arizona operate using funds allocated by the state based on enrollment. Districts can ask voters to tax themselves to provide additional funds for construction, renovations and technology through the use of bonds. But districts are limited on how much debt they can have at one time. So that – and the fact that it takes manpower to get projects complete – determines how many projects can be under way at any given time.
Sylvester, the district’s assistant superintendent of business and support services, presented the plan that included $10.5 million for transportation; $14.7 million for technology and $20.8 million for renovation and construction.
When districts place bond measures on ballots, they must include a breakdown of how the funds will be spent based on specific categories. Once bond funds are approved, districts can shift funds slightly – increasing any one area by no more than 10 percent. But that means they must then decrease funds from another area, Sylvester told the board.
Sylvester recommended the board go forward and purchase all 66 needed vehicles during the first phase of the bond program to take advantage of prices now and the possibility of generating about $1 million in fuel savings. She said as more and more districts convert their fleets to propane – as Mesa plans to do – the cost of vehicles could rise.
In terms of technology, the district is hoping to set up every campus with a way to connect students wirelessly to the Internet. Sylvester said it is possible to set up the schools with a system that will allow them to increase bandwidth for Internet connections as the need grows. Phase one of the bond plan would also allow the district to pilot about 20 new programs teachers design to bring innovation into the classrooms, Superintendent Mike Cowan said.
In the renovation category, Sylvester presented a list of 200 project requests from the school sites. Many of the top-priority projects would cut district energy costs.
Other top areas included replacing fire alarms.
One pressing project is the demolition of Mesa Junior High School, which closed after last school year. The district bond program included $4 million to tear down buildings on the campus. Voters in November also approved a city bond that will help transform the site into a recreational and park area.
“We’d like to see us do that in the next six months,” Sylvester said about the demolition.
One reason there isn’t a start date is because the city is still putting together its plans, Cowan said.
“We’re waiting for the city for direction on what they would like to keep and not keep related to their plans for the athletics fields. The city council is talking about that as we speak,” he said.
While demolition work is in the plan for one site, construction is in the plan for Dobson High School. The bond program includes $6.5 million to replace portable buildings there with brick-and-mortar classrooms. Sylvester recommended that $3 million be used in the first phase of the bond program to get the building started in the fall, with plans to complete it in summer 2014.
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