Committee to recommend closing 'handful' of Mesa elementary schools - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Committee to recommend closing 'handful' of Mesa elementary schools

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Posted: Friday, April 27, 2012 1:09 pm | Updated: 1:58 pm, Fri Apr 27, 2012.

A Mesa facilities planning committee will recommend closing a handful of elementary schools and rebuilding when appropriate when it finalizes its recommendation next week for the district governing board.

The Mesa Unified School District put together a facilities planning committee earlier this year to help craft a 10-year facilities plan. That plan is needed, district leaders say, because of declining enrollment, aging facilities, and a need to update technology infrastructure around the 200-square-mile district.

The district has taken steps in the last few years to address declining enrollment in the junior high schools: Powell Junior High School was closed and Mesa Junior High School will close at the end of this school year. Brimhall Junior High School will close as a neighborhood campus, but become home to several back-to-basics schools that will merge in the fall.

Much of the focus now is on the elementary school sites. The district has 57 of them, 17 of which are 40- to 63- years old. Four of those are 55 and older.

With technology and learning at the forefront, and with the recommendation from the committee, district leaders may put together a plan to close some schools, but also rebuild at some sites.

Bobette Sylvester, assistant superintendent of business and support services, told the facilities committee Thursday night that after removing aging portables on elementary school campuses, there are still about 2,000 excess elementary school seats in the district.

The district will address how many schools — and which ones — should be examined for closure and/or rebuilding, Superintendent Mike Cowan said. That will not be a job of this committee.

Sylvester told the Tribune that if the governing board goes with a recommendation to close some elementary schools, public hearings on those closures will likely happen this fall.

Last week, a demographic and enrollment analysis was given to the board that shows a projection of 2,400 fewer students in the district in the next 10 years. But it’s a gradual decline. The district already has about 11,000 fewer students today than it did in the 2004-2005 school year, the peak of the last decade.

The committee was told more than 60 percent of households in the Mesa district boundaries do not have children.

Part of putting the 10-year-facilities plan together is to provide a framework for a bond vote on the November ballot. That decision will ultimately rest with the governing board, which has until early June to design the bond package.

Thursday night, the committee agreed it wants to “consolidate and replace where appropriate” the elementary schools, and “reduce, remodel, keep in repair, and — if more economical — replace” at the junior high and high school levels.

The district has already identified more than $80 million in technology and technology infrastructure that needs to be raised through a bond vote. Additional areas for the bond question will be formed from the recommendation of this committee.

The committee was given a list of potential projects or improvement needs based on school analysis in December. It includes kitchen remodels and repairs, mechanical heating and air-conditioning needs, plumbing repairs and remodeling, electrical needs, fire alarm and sound systems, flooring, roofing, energy needs and possible construction projects per school.

For the elementary schools, the district identified $58.3 million in needs; for the junior high schools, that figure is $34 million; and for the high schools, it is nearly $54 million.

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