Open classrooms, learning gaps and other issues related to the pandemic may be at the forefront of decisions awaiting the new Mesa Public Schools Governing Board, but the condition of many district schools won’t be far behind.
This summer voters could see construction beginning on two of the biggest projects funded by the $300 million capital bond issue that they approved in 2018: an extensive overhaul of Mesa High and Mountain View campuses with some new buildings and additions, revamped athletic fields and other improvements that will cost an estimated $35 million for each school.
So far, the board has only approved contracts for final proposed designs and cost estimates for the two projects.
The board must also decide whether the Mesa High project should include a new campus for Franklin East Elementary School. Nine of Franklin’s 15 buildings are in such a deteriorated condition that replacing the complex at $20 million would make more sense in the long run, district administrators told the board last October.
While the board signed off on preparation work for the two high school projects, it ended its October briefing with no decision on what to do about Franklin East – which Assistant Superintendent Scott Thompson said is so deteriorated that “this is a campus that needs to be rebuilt.”
He explained most of the buildings require so many repairs that the district faces “severe costs one way or the other” and that it would make more financial sense in the long run to replace the 43-year-old Franklin East with a new school on the northern edge of the Mesa High complex.
The two high school projects may be among the sexiest parts of MPS’ capital spending, but they are far from the only ones among 75 school buildings.
The district last school year spent the remainder of a $230 million capital bond issue voters approved in 2012, using $8.3 million for various repairs and another $4.6 million on technology equipment. The 2018 bond was the first capital bond issue put before voters since that 2012 issue.
Bond issues are not the district’s only source of capital funds. Its capital budget is fueled by other sources as well, including State Facilities Board money and secondary property tax revenue.
But the 2018 bond issue gave a big shot in the arm to the district’s never-ending efforts to address its aging infrastructure.
Last summer alone cost the district the following: $12.5 million in various repair projects, $11.3 million on security to keep schools safer and $9 million to replace or upgrade 311 HVAC units at various schools in an effort to reduce high electric bills.
Both the Mesa High and Mountain View projects have been long in the making, as district officials met with parents, students and teachers to assess what they felt was needed at each campus.
Board member Marcie Hutchinson hailed that process as “refreshing,” recalling that she would wonder “what they were thinking?” during her 28-year career as a history teacher in three different MPS high school buildings.
The centerpieces of the Mesa High project include a new science/biotech building, a new student services building and upgrades and additions to playing fields.
The two new buildings, architect Saravanan Bala of the firm Orcutt-Winslow said, would result in “a pretty substantial net gain in instructional square footage” totaling more than 67,880 square feet, better address student needs in the areas of performing arts, physical education and athletics and career technology and improve security on campus for students and staff alike.
The science/biotech building will have 32 fully equipped labs and classrooms as well as a career technical education wing that will offer separate shop space for welding, auto repair and construction. The student services building would house all social workers, administrators and counselors.
Also planned are new sand volleyball courts, improvements to softball fields and tennis courts and a football field that may have artificial turf.
These projects are part of the first phase of renovating Mesa High’s campus. Community members and district officials said they one day envision a new auditorium and gym on the campus.
But those projects may not see the light of day for a decade or longer.
“One thing you guys need to understand about this,” Thompson told the board, “is this is only about one-third of what the campus needs and it may be a while before we get back to that campus because we have other high schools that have other needs.”
He said during brainstorming sessions with the community, “we tried to be very clear that this could be 10, 15 years before other parts of the master plan are done.”
He said it could cost $90 million alone for all the improvements and upgrades that parents, staff and students sought for the Mesa High campus and that “that’s $90 million that we don’t have right now. So, we had to whittle it down…We had to prioritize something and this is kind of what that campus really needs right now.”
The first phase of the Mountain View project also calls for a new building and a new addition.
A two-story performing arts center would become what lead architect Neil Pieratt called a “signature building right in the middle of the campus” that would include a “white box” that would become a “lighthouse or a beacon for the middle of that campus” and would also include student assembly space.
The addition would have recording studios, new spaces for the orchestra and choir and performance space.
The project also envisions a new competition gym as the centerpiece for a number of athletic-related improvements that include new turf for the competition and practice fields as well as the HIIT training field, new sand volleyball courts and upgraded tennis courts.
Other plans call for a new concession area, an expanded cafeteria with a bistro, consolidation of all science classes and labs, improved security and lobby area. Besides adding new parking, drop-off and bus lane areas, the project also would include new outdoor spaces for students.
“The thing that was most impactful for me was the student input,” Pieratt said, stressing that “the kids said they want socialization space. There’s not enough places just to be with their peers on the Mountain View campus. They feel like there’s just too much concrete.”
Associate Superintendent Holly Williams said that the depth of community involvement in planning the two high school projects was best illustrated when Pieratt finally presented his vision to the community panelists - which he said he based on their input over weeks of brainstorming.
“They had no questions,” Williams said. “They had all been involved in the process so much along the way that they knew what was going on. They knew what to expect in the presentation and they were just thrilled to see the progress.”
The board approved Scottsdale-based Nations Group as the project manager for the Mountain View renovation.
“Mesa Public Schools has not traditionally used a third-party project manager but given the scope and complexity of this project we felt the project would benefit by adding Nations Group to our team,” said Thompson. “We want to make sure we can deliver on our commitment to good financial stewardship of our taxpayers’ dollars. We believe Nations Group has the expertise and knowledge to make sure we maximize every dollar spent.”
Chris Nations, president of Nations Group, added, “There are unique intricacies that are inherent to every school project. These details can easily drive up cost and delay completion. It’s vitally important to lead a project with a comprehensive strategy that takes every aspect into account.”