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MUSD planning for new schools

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Posted: Thursday, August 4, 2005 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:49 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

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July 20, 2005 - Weighted by a town that's experiencing rapid growth, the Marana

Unified School District is still planning how it will deal with the increasing number of

students that will fill its schools in the coming years.

With new rooftops coming in by the thousands, new students - the district

estimates about one per four homes - will enter the district, quickly increasing the

need for more schools in an area that already has several elementary schools over

capacity.

The district's governing board gave a final nod of approval July 12 to a 2005-06

budget that does not yet address the need for new schools, but this could be the

last year the district's budget remains stagnant as Marana gears up for a population

boom.

The budget that board members approved last week brings the district's

maintenance and operations expenditures up to $61.9 million, a modest 3.6 percent

increase from last year.

"The budget itself doesn't address new schools. No money has been put aside for

that yet," Board President Bill Kuhn said, indicating that's something that district

officials and new Superintendent Denny Dearden will sit down to discuss soon.

Maintenance Director Bob Thomas, along with Finance Director Dan Contorno, have

spent much of their time, in recent days, figuring out how the district will keep up with

growth.

Thomas said the district has applied for funding from the Arizona School Facilities

Board for two new elementary schools - one off of Silverbell Road in Continental

Reserve and another along Thornydale Road, south of Tangerine Road and north of

Linda Vista Boulevard. Diamond Ventures already has reserved a 10-acre site in

Continental Reserve for the first school, but the district still is trying to convince the

state to buy land along Thornydale Road for the other.

If funding is approved, Thomas expects construction will start on a new school in

Continental Reserve next May to open for the 2007-08 school year. The other

school would open the following year.

According to district records, Ironwood Elementary School is already over capacity,

with 879 students, while Coyote Trail and Twin Peaks elementary schools continue

to grow rapidly, with 789 and 765 students, respectively. Thomas said the standard

maximum capacity for an elementary school is about 600 to 650 students,

depending on its square footage, so the two new schools should relieve

overcrowding. Coyote Trail opened in 1996 and Twin Peaks opened in 2001 to

accommodate Continental Ranch-area students.

About 250 students from both Coyote Trail and Twin Peaks would funnel into the

new school in Continental Reserve next year, leaving all three schools in the area

with an enrollment of about 500 students. Meanwhile, Ironwood's enrollment could

surpass 1,000 within the next two years, making it logical to divide those students

equally among two schools, as well.

In the meantime, the district has kept up with growth by installing modular buildings

for additional classroom space at several schools and is adding new buildings at

Coyote Trail, Ironwood and Mountain View High School this summer.

Large stacks of files pertaining to more than 30 major residential developments

amounting to more than 20,000 homes in Marana are piled high inside Thomas'

personal office.

With more than 10,000 homes planned in northern Marana in the next five years,

Thomas said a new elementary school in Gladden Farms, where developers have

reserved a 10-acre site for a new school, will be considered. Students in Gladden

Farms currently attend Estes Elementary School, which has an enrollment of 354

students.

The district has several other sites that are planned for future schools as well.

Last April, the district accepted a 15-acre site along Camino de Oeste north of

Tangerine Road from Cottonwood Properties, developers of Dove Mountain.

Developers of Sagauro Springs have donated a 10-acre site as part of their 2,500-

home development on Twin Peaks Road west of the Tucson Mountains. Marana

also has convinced developers to contribute $1,200 per unit toward the school

district when building homes north of Tangerine Road.

Board President Bill Kuhn said he envisions several schools in the district's near

future, including a middle school in Continental Ranch that will serve as a feeder

school for Marana High School and a new high school in northern Marana that will pair

up with Marana Middle School. The district already owns 43 acres of property at the

north end

of Continental Ranch that has been earmarked for a middle school.

"Ten years from now, I see a need for a new middle school, a new high school and

five more elementary schools, either up and running or about to be open, based on

the population growth we see in the town limits of Marana," Kuhn said.

Kuhn admitted those are his own personal views and there may be others with a

different vision, but the fact remains that the town is changing and the district needs to

keep up.

"The town of Marana, the farming community that was, is changing right now and it

won't be that many days before the kids will go outside and there won't be any

more cotton fields," he said.

Thomas said the district is about one year behind schedule in terms of new school

construction and added that the original goal was to have a new school in Continental

Reserve ready for the 2006-07 school year.

Thomas said he didn't have accurate growth projections to submit to the School

Facilities Board last October and the district will have to wait until the state's next

reporting period this October to get approval for any new school construction.

While the district sees a need for several schools in the coming years, Thomas said

he thinks the state underestimates the growth projected in Marana and he's uncertain

whether the district's wishes will be granted.

"It's going to be really hard to tell until they receive our new growth figures," he said.

As part of a 1999 bond election that raised district taxes almost $50 per year,

several projects totaling $38.8 million, including construction of three elementary

schools, were approved by MUSD voters. As a result, Twin Peaks was constructed

and Estes was given a massive renovation, but the third school has yet to be seen.

Kuhn said the district has several million dollars in bonds left over that it could sell to

help construct a new school but that's not a route he wants to go.

"If the state's building the schools, my feeling is that we don't spend the taxpayers'

money here," he said.

In 1994, Arizona's system of school capital finance was declared unconstitutional and

the state was ordered to develop a constitutional system or risk closure of K-12

public schools. In 1998, legislation was passed to create the School Facilities Board,

which now distributes state money for new school construction.

An added bonus to the district for constructing Twin Peaks with bond money is that

it's considered "invisible" by the state, Thomas said. That means its square footage

isn't included in formulas that determine the district's need for new schools, yet its

population counts are.

Because the state allocates about $105 per square foot to construct and furnish a

school, the district will have to kick in some of its own money when the time comes to

start building, he said. He estimated that it costs closer to $140 per square foot to

build a decent school.

After having spent the first six months of the year dealing with personnel

controversies, Kuhn reiterated that planning for the district's future is something the

district's three new board members and Dearden will start focusing on soon.

"We're visiting things they haven't visited before," he said. "With the new

superintendent, now we go back to some planning and have everybody sit down

and look at it, and look at the sources of money, what we have, and we'll get some

direction from the board."

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