February 3, 2005
Hundreds of parents in the fast-growing San Tan Copper Basin neighborhood are furious because a school they were promised would be ready for the 2004-05 school year has yet to open its doors.
The school, Copper Basin Elementary, is part of the Florence Unified School District. It has a Web site and even a mascot, the Dust Devil.
Officials say it’s what the school didn’t have — approval of its fire lane and a septic pump station — that’s kept doors shut on the 1,050-student capacity school.
Parents will meet with district officials today to learn if the school will finally open its doors Monday — seven months behind schedule. In the meantime, about 900 students are attending nearby Johnson Ranch Elementary School.
Copper Basin parents say they are frustrated by the delay and overcrowding at Johnson Ranch Elementary School.
"Our kids don’t have a library because it’s being used for classroom space," said Kris Menlove, a mother of three students. "There are 37 kids in my son’s fourth-grade class."
Parents said they’ve been patient with the delays, but when a January deadline passed, they had enough.
"No more, no more," Menlove said, "Mama bear’s coming out."
District officials say parents have every reason to be upset and make no excuses for the school’s delay. Superintendent Richard Sagar said he can’t open a school without a Certificate of Occupancy. The district has been unable to secure the necessary certificate because the fire lane and septic pump system have not been inspected. He blames developer Mark Stapp for the delay.
Stapp donated the land, but that’s where his involvement ended. He said he had nothing to do with building the school and he’s not to blame. He says the district told people the school would be open in July 2004, knowing it was impossible.
Stapp said the school was supposed to be open in January, but has been delayed because of last month’s rain and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s schedule. The department is responsible for signing off on the school’s the septic pump station.
"Things are out of our control," Stapp said. "The good news is we got a lot of rain, but the bad news is we couldn’t pave the fire lane because the subbase is soaked."
DEQ spokesman Cortland Coleman said his department has an application for the Villages at Copper Basin, but he wasn’t confident the school was included on the application.
Sagar said he doesn’t necessarily think Stapp is being untruthful, but the rain and the schedules of environmental inspectors is inconsequential.
"Look, this school was supposed to open in August," he said.
Stapp says the school didn’t even have a roof on it in August.
Parents praised the district for openness and being advocates for their students. They said they are grateful for the opportunity to meet with the district’s facilities director, Mark Gomes. They are disappointed that Stapp won’t be there, but several of his business partners will.
"He needs to be there," Menlove said. "I want these men to be accountable for what they’ve done to our children."
What: Meeting to discuss Copper Basin Elementary School’s delay
When: 9 a.m. today
Where: Copper Basin Elementary School, 29895 N. Desert Willow Blvd.