Lack of funding equals less school construction this summer - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Lack of funding equals less school construction this summer

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Posted: Monday, June 7, 2010 5:11 pm

There's a collective sign of the times going on in East Valley school districts.

While summers past have brought about construction and major remodeling projects, this year it's fairly quiet.

In fact, the only new buildings going up appear to be at Mesa's Skyline High School, where a 30,000-square foot classroom building is rising, along with a new aquatic center the city is building on land donated by the district.

Not that there isn't a lot going on. The districts are busy with typical summertime maintenance and smaller projects, such as flooring replacement, energy upgrades and kitchen cleaning.

"We're not doing as many projects as we have in the past. In the past we'd have as many as 150 or more. This year we've got 37 to 43 projects," said Rick Michalek, director of operations for the Mesa Unified School District. "Money is one of the biggest reasons. We don't have the funding for some projects. We're deferring projects. We're coming toward the end of our bond funds."

Michalek said in Mesa's case, the district is also making sure it has an emergency fund available in case of any catastrophic failure at a school like a chiller or electric service. "We want to have the funds available to make repairs."

The state's School Facilities Board has provided funds to districts in the past to conduct building repairs and maintenance, but with the state's fiscal crisis, those funds have dried up, putting the bulk of the burden back on districts through either their maintenance and operations budgets or bond funds approved by voters.

Last summer, Chandler Unified School District saw the completion of the Ken "Chief" Hill Academy, a free-standing alternative school, as well as remodeling of the former Pathways Learning Center that was transformed into Chandler Traditional Junior High.

This summer, the Chandler district's only major projects are upgrades required for career and technical education in kitchens at Chandler and Hamilton high schools and biotechnology labs at Basha and Hamilton high schools. The district is also installing an energy management system at Hancock Elementary School, said Frank Fletcher, associate superintendent for support services.

While Queen Creek Unified School District added 10 classrooms to Queen Creek Elementary School last summer, this year the only building being completed is the district's office. The main focus is on general maintenance, said Candy Cooley, director of maintenance and facilities.

Like Mesa, Queen Creek is at the tail end of its bond funds, which were passed 2005.

"We've accomplished the majority of what was set out with the bond already. We're picking up renovation projects, but the majority of that bond has been spent," she said. The culinary lab at the high school is being upgraded, like Chandler, because of career and technical education standards.

Gilbert Unified School District's last major project was Campo Verde High School, which opened this year. That school is seeing a solar energy system put in this summer, while several other Gilbert schools will receive upgrades to their lighting and HVAC systems, partly funded through a grant from the School Facilities Board.

"Summer is a busy time for our maintenance and operations crews. They will be taking care of general maintenance, including repairing roofs and patching parking lots. Gilbert Elementary will have its bathrooms remodeled, and cooling towers will be replaced at Greenfield Elementary, Mesquite High, and Towne Meadows Elementary schools," Gilbert district spokeswoman Dianne Bowers said. "Most of the maintenance and repair work is funded from the bonds our community approved in anticipation of the shortage of funding from the state."

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