Three years ago, a tuba owned by the Mesa Unified School District was deemed unplayable by a repair store.
Earlier this winter, that same instrument was used during a student concert at Mesa High School.
In the fall of 2011, the school district opened its own instrument repair shop with one instrument repair technician and one assistant.
The shop has repaired more than 3,600 instruments in its first year of existence. That’s more than double the number repaired the previous year using outside vendors, according to Ruth Argabright, coordinator of the district’s music education program.
Argabright shared an update about the shop – and the story of the broken tuba -- with the school board during a December meeting.
"It was a dream for a long time, and now a reality and a real blessing," she told the board.
The board viewed a video created by the district educational television department about the instrument repair shop.
Mark Stephens, the shop’s instrument repair technician, said in the video that an average repair that once cost the district $72 when sent to an outside vendor is now completed for about $21.
"I think teachers like it because they have somewhere they can bring the instruments and they can see the instruments and see the work getting done and it’s more of a personal relationship working with them," Stephens said. "I can tell them what’s going on, if it’s a malfunction in the instrument or if it’s a student-related type of repair."
During the 2010-11 school year, the district paid four vendors $97,000 to repair 1,300 instruments. Many of those were "Band-Aid" repairs, Argabright said.
The next school year, the district spent $165,501 to set up the shop and pay for staff and parts. More than 3,000 instruments were repaired.
"Music was important to me. It kept me in school ... I’ve taken it on as we want to be able to supply every student who wants an instrument to have one. No matter what is wrong with them, whether it’s a minor repair or a full overhaul, we do it right here," Stephens told the Tribune during a visit at the instrument repair shop. "If we have instruments that are down, we have kids who aren’t playing. We need to fix that."
This school year, the district estimates it will spend about $120,000, Argabright told the governing board. She estimates it would have cost the district about $250,000 to get that same number of instruments repaired.
District Superintendent Mike Cowan told the board it’s a "win-win" situation for the district.
"We are providing our students with twice as many instruments that were previously sitting on shelves, sometimes for years at a time," he said. "Now we have more students playing with much higher quality instruments … We literally are earning money to sustain this through the reduction of costs compared to what it used to be."
Argabright said she would like to see the instrument repair shop become a training facility for students and adults. This could create an opportunity for a future career, she said. According to the National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians, there is a shortage of people trained to do this job. And there are only four repair schools in the country listed on the association’s website.
In addition, the district is looking to provide repair services to other school districts and maybe the community.
"Doing so would provide a valuable service to them, while providing additional revenue for us," Argabright said.
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