From education to economic development, the Town of Gilbert ended 2013 with solid economic prospects, a sterling reputation for safety and a couple of issues that irked several of its residence. But the year might be best known for how it contributed to the foundation of what the town can be in the near future.
Here is a list of a few articles that affected the community and made headlines over the past 12 months.
• Gilbert primed itself for economic growth from the continued growth of both a retail park and the continued expansion of a new home development.
The former comes in the form of Nationwide Realty’s Rivulon project, which will double the office space available in Gilbert. Located adjacent to the Santan Freeway between Gilbert and South Lindsay roads, the Rivulon project will provide a little bit of everything as part of a mixed-zoning project. It’s a long-term project, anticipated to grow step by step over the past 10 to 20 years.
On the residential side of things is the continued resurrection of 480-acre Bridges at Gilbert development located at the southeast corner of Higley and Queen Creek roads. All but dead two years ago, the project now has 11 builders preparing lots and model homes to fill the 1,600 planned lots.
• A deal that would have brought Apple to neighboring Mesa came very close to being kyboshed due to a vote by the Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board. Although the plant will open in Mesa, the territory is part of the school district’s tax base and made Gilbert Public Schools one of eight government entities to sign a letter of no objection to a tax incentive for the company. City of Mesa officials said not signing the letter of no objection could have persuaded Apple to move the project to a different state.
The seven other agencies, including East Valley Institute of Technology and Maricopa County, approved it, but the Gilbert board held off on approving it over the protestations of members Daryl Colvin and Julie Smith, even though the move adds at least $2.5 million in additional tax revenue through the agreement. Smith cited an objection to government picking winners and losers as reasons for her objections.
After Colvin, Smith and Board President Staci Burk voted to table it at the first meeting, the board unanimously approved signing the letter of no objection at a special meeting the following week.
• Residents of Gilbert protested against a mental health facility that wanted to move into the town twice in the same year. The company, Springstone, first wanted to build the behavioral health clinic called Saguaro Springs adjacent to Pioneer Elementary School back in April. Parents and residents began to speak out against the proposal, and Springstone eventually opted to pick a different location for the facility.
Springstone announced a proposal for a new location a few months later, one that was not adjacent to one of the schools. But residents again protested the facility’s location — now at Val Vista Drive and Williams Field Road — due to its proximity to a residential area, shopping centers and schools. Protestors also cited concern over a potential decline in property values due to the facility as motivation for their outcry.
As a result of the new wave of protest, Springstone announced in October it would pull out of the site and out of Gilbert completely.
• Residents of Gilbert received a nice reminder late in the year when a law website listed the town as the second safest city in America. Using figures compiled from FBI Crime Report Statistics in 2012, the website Law Street tabbed Gilbert as the second safest city behind Irvine, Calif., with a population of 200,000 people. The total violent crime rate — consisting of murder, aggravated assaults, robberies and forcible rape — was listed at 95.68 per 100,000 people.
Law Street also credited the town for doing so despite having a very low officer-to-resident ratio for its size. Currently, the town has one officer for every 965 community members.
“It is a tremendous recognition for our community,” said Mayor John Lewis. “You just can’t find a greater recognition.”
• Gilbert’s two main school districts expect to see a bit of a budget crunch next year due partially to a decision by voters this November. Both the Gilbert Unified School District and Higley Unified School District placed Overrides on the ballot this year — 6.6 percent for Gilbert and 10 percent for Higley — but voters rejected the districts’ requests to overspend their Maintenance and Operations budgets by those percents by very wide margins.
Higley also had a $70.5 million bond package on the ballot targeted for future projects and possible school construction. Early voting had the package failing, but the final count saw the measure pass just barely.
• Ironwood Cancer & Research Center broke ground on its newest facility in the Town of Gilbert this spring. With three locations in Mesa, one in Chandler and one in Queen Creek, Ironwood decided to erect a brand new facility in Gilbert in April adjacent to Mercy Gilbert Medical Center. The site is also near the current location on Rome Street, which will be moved into the new site once the Ironwood Center is completed.
The two story, 29,000-square-foot center offers oncology, nutritional and homeopathic services to patients.
“The real goal is to provide integrative cancer care,” said Ironwood Practice Administrator Elizabeth Mueller. “There will cancer doctors with different disciplines that can rotate into the office.”
• Also on the health front was the expansion of Banner Health’s presence in Gilbert, starting with the groundbreaking of an expansion to Banner Gateway in January. Once completed, the 130,000 square-foot, $62.6 million expansion will double the number of clinic exam rooms to 60, add three linear accelerators used for radiation treatment and expand several of the facility’s treatment centers.
This year also saw the opening of a new Banner Health Center in Gilbert in May. One of four Banner Health Centers to open in the East Valley this year — along with Queen Creek, Chandler and East Mesa — it has 16 exam rooms, basic imaging and laboratory services available.
• Gilbert entered the game toward boosting its post-secondary education options with an agreement to bring a St. Xavier University campus to the downtown region. Set to open in 2015, the Chicago-based Catholic institute reached an agreement to open an 87,000-square-foot satellite campus in the town’s Heritage District. The proposal is to build a four-story facility with nursing labs, student lounges, and a 300-car parking facility for students who want to attend the four-year college.
• Gilbert had one of its residents hit the national stage when Gilbert resident Jennifer Smestad won the Miss Arizona pageant in June. A junior at Grand Canyon University, Smestad, who entered the contest as Miss City of Maricopa, beat out 15 other contestants at the pageant hosted by Mesquite High School to earn the title of 2013 Miss Arizona. Smestad later competed in the 2014 Miss America pageant and finished outside the top 16.
• Gilbert Public Schools spent part of the year searching for a new leader after superintendent Dave Allison announced his retirement in January. Allison, who began his role in 2008 and worked for the district for 20 years, originally planned to stay until June 30, but he ended up staying until July 12 to ensure the district could find a replacement.
It took until July to find a replacement, with the district’s governing board hiring John Keegan to serve in the interim role. Before coming to Gilbert, Keegan served as the superintendent of schools in Council Bluff, Iowa.
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