Higley school officials didn’t hit the state’s pocketbook hard — they socked it.
The Arizona School Facilities Board paid the highest real estate price this month in its seven-year history of funding land purchases for public schools — in the Higley Unified School District.
The 50-acre cornfield on Higley Road, scheduled to become the district’s next high school in 2007, cost the state $11 million — half of its 2005 budget for land purchases.
Neither state nor school officials were surprised.
"We are not the anomaly," said Higley Superintendent Joyce Lutrey. "I think that is today’s reality. I think the fact that ours is the most expensive is because it is the most recent."
Developers typically donate land to school districts which softens the blow to the state’s budget, according to facilities board spokeswoman Kristen Landry. But in 2004, the state had to purchase three of seven properties for new schools; four were donated.
Before Higley, Balsz Elementary School District in east Phoenix topped the price list when the state paid $6.8 million for 17 acres in 2001.
Landry said the board is "concerned" with rising prices; they’ve increased their 2006 land purchasing budget to $30 million.
"One of the reasons they are having to pay so much money is they are in competition with dozens, if not hundreds, of home builders," said Duane Thoms, a Phoenix appraiser who reviewed several appraisals on the school land.
"Prices are increasing at an alarming rate," Thoms said. "To say (the real estate market) is highly fueled is an understatement. The entire real estate market in metropolitan Phoenix is kind of supercharged."
Lutrey said, "We were surprised that (East Valley land prices are) escalating that fast. But we are not surprised that the appraisal came in as that because we’ve been watching the market."