Long-term future of Gilbert expected to come into sharper focus in 2014 - East Valley Tribune: Gilbert

Long-term future of Gilbert expected to come into sharper focus in 2014

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Posted: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 12:00 pm

Area officials anticipate a promising foundation set in 2013 will provide the town of Gilbert room to continue its expansion for the next 12 months.

Town Manager Patrick Banger said the year should start off with the groundbreaking for the Rivulon office complex sometime this month. What makes the project so unique for Gilbert is the scope of it, as Banger said the 3.1 million-square-foot complex will more than double the town’s current office space.

Also set to break ground in 2014 is the St. Xavier University in Gilbert’s Heritage District. Announced in 2013, the Chicago-based educational institution will give the town its very first four-year university, although it might not be the only option in town for very long.

“I think it’s safe to say we’ll have another university announcement (this) year,” Banger said.

Other economic projects he noted include the expansion of the Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center that is expected to finish in 2014 and a goal of turning Orbital Sciences’ property into a foreign trade zone, which could give the company a boost in its attempts to land more satellite contracts.

Additionally, Banger said residents can expect the continuation of many projects as part of the town’s long-term master plan with a heavy emphasis on infrastructure improvements. It’s not the most interesting topic if looked at on a surface level, but the effect it could have on taxpayers could be enormous in the long run.

One example mentioned by Banger is a plan to implement a program for fire hydrants that will cost $500 to maintain over a 10-year period and will keep them in operation for approximately a century in lieu of purchasing a new one for $6,700 every 25 years.

“It’s an estimated savings of $187 million to our community,” he said. “That’s just one category; that’s just fire hydrants.”

Money-saving projects like that are one reason Banger doesn’t expect Gilbert’s income tax and utility rates to increase in 2014, and he said the town anticipates it will continue to provide its services at an even smaller cost for taxpayers in the next 12 months.

“We got even more efficient over the last year, and we’re going to continue that trend into the future,” he said.

Residents in Gilbert will also have an opportunity to pick who will represent their interests for 2015 and beyond this November. Up for grabs are the seats of incumbents Eddie Cook, Victor Petersen, Jordan Ray and Ben Cooper.

Students in Gilbert who attend Higley Unified School District can expect to see the continued expansion of its Chinese immersion program that will teach students about Chinese culture, said Superintendent Denise Birdwell. Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, students in kindergarten or first grade at Coronado Elementary School in Gilbert can take the Mandarin Choice Program and receive math and science lessons in that language.

The long-term goal is to build the program up year after year to the point where students can learn Mandarin from kindergarten through the end of high school, or even switch to a third language once they reach the secondary level. The purpose, Birdwell said, is to get students an introduction to a language and culture that continues to gain prominence on a global scale.

“That will give them a trickle-down effect,” she said.

Another issue of note for Higley Birdwell cited involved budget issues ranging from expected cuts due to the inability to pass an override in 2013 to weighing the fiscal and other pros and cons related to the decision to turn some of its schools into charters. The latter does provide a school additional funding — more than $1,000 a student — but the district would have to repay the extra money if it returns the charter to a regular school within a certain time period.

“We’re going to monitor that closely,” she said.

Another carryover from 2013 and a couple of years before that are potential gains that could come from the housing market. Maracay Homes CEO Andy Warren said the improvement the market has made since the crash in the 2000s should continue into 2014 at a clip closer to normal than it was prior to the fall of the market.

“I think that we are now finally reemerging into an era of a natural, healthy housing market,” Warren said. “If you look over the last 10 years, it really hasn’t been a healthy market.”

For Gilbert, that could stem from additional construction in the Bridges at Gilbert — a 480-acre development located at the corner of Higley and Queen Creek roads. The project was left for dead after the housing market collapse, the development has rebounded in the last couple of years to become one of the most attractive developments of its kind in the region.

Continued real estate expansion with projects like the Bridges and others should help the town grow year by year until it hits a population of 330,000, which Banger said is Gilbert’s estimated max build out.

“We added about 6,000 Gilbert residents, and we’ll probably do a little better next year.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-5647 or emungenast@evtrib.com.

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