Since 1971, Powell Junior High School has served adolescents in a west pocket of Mesa that borders Tempe.
The students wear red, white and blue uniforms. They participate in basketball, baseball, ROTC and several school clubs.
But with declining enrollment and a struggle to maintain academic achievement, the district proposed Tuesday to transform Powell Junior High into Powell Community Center.
There, the entire community could be served with before- and after-school programs for neighborhood kids, a health care program to address the basic needs of residents and GED and English classes for adults.
“We’re looking and exploring a variety of options so it becomes a vibrant community magnet for that part of Mesa,” Superintendent Mike Cowan told the Tribune on Friday.
These are some of the ideas Cowan said are being proposed for the school site at 855 W. Eighth Ave.
The recommendation was part of an eight-point plan presented to the district’s governing board Thursday evening.
For the past few weeks, the committee has been exploring ways to better use district facilities in light of declining enrollment and budget shortfalls.
The presented plan — which will be discussed at several upcoming community meetings before a governing board decision in January — also includes program changes at Hendrix Junior High School and Guerrero, Frost and Alma elementary schools and the district’s McKellips Middle School, an alternative school.
The total savings could be between $2.4 million and $2.6 million next school year if all of the recommendations are adopted, the committee reported.
Guerrero Elementary, which lies within the current Powell Junior High boundaries, could be transformed into a campus for students in grades seven through 12. The district’s East Valley Academy and Crossroads programs would be transferred to the campus.
The district has lost more than 6,000 students in the last eight years, and its budget has been chopped by at least $60 million in the last two, with more cuts possible later this school year.
Since the plan was unveiled Thursday, the district has received just a handful of e-mails through its Defining the Future Web site, created to communicate the proposals and process to parents and community members.
One e-mail stated a worry that the Powell students would “fall through the cracks at other schools.”
Another, from a Guerrero parent, said, “I’m very sad to hear what you are planning to do with our school. For a lot of our students, coming to our school is going to a place where they get love and attention, something they don’t get at home.”
Powell Junior High has seen a decline of about 400 students in the last four years. Last school year, about 258 students who live in the Powell Junior High boundary area transferred out to other Mesa schools. About 85 percent of the school’s students walk to campus, according to district research.
The district reports the campus needs about $2 million in facility repairs, including mechanical, plumbing and flooring needs.
Guerrero has dropped about 200 students from its peak of 913 in 2004-05. Guerrero was created in the shell of a former grocery store at a time when the district needed more space for students. It has smaller parking and playground space than other Mesa schools.
The proposals to close or reformat several schools on Mesa’s west side triggered several concerns from Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh, whose District 3 includes the campuses involved.
He said he would have liked the school district to have spoken with the city beforehand and to offer more specifics.
School locations can play a factor in how the city provides neighborhood services, its eligibility for grants, and how police and fire services are managed. Plus, the schools are important for other groups in the city.
“The city used Powell for its meetings to communicate with people. It really is the central meeting place for the neighborhood,” he said.
The closure could have pluses, Kavanaugh acknowledged, by allowing the site to be the home of new services. But he is concerned that the district has used the term “community services,” which he considers vague.
“I think that was a catch-all phrase that is being used to almost shield the fact that we’re using an important community asset,” Kavanaugh said. “The school district doesn’t really know what to do with it, but will use it as a community center. Well, that could mean a lot of different things.”
Cowan said if the district’s Community Education Department were moved to Powell as part of a community center, along with the other proposed services, several generations could find help and an outlet at the center.
“We’re talking to a lot of groups that say they would be interested in that,” Cowan said. “We would work with the city to allow them to offer services they see needed in the community.”
Cowan also pointed out the proposal is just at the beginning of the decision process.
“None of this is locked in,” he said. “We need to allow the board to make a decision.”
Concerns from parents about where their children would attend school would be addressed following any decisions.
The community-based boundary committee would create a proposal for boundary changes that would then be considered by the district’s five-member elected board.
Kavanaugh acknowledged this is a fairly new issue for the district to deal with, as school officials have spent decades looking to build new schools.
“There’s a strong interest that we have in these decisions, but we have no control,” Kavanaugh said.
District recommendations that could take effect in the 2010-11 school year:
• Add ninth-graders to Westwood, Dobson and Skyline high schools by moving those students up from Brimhall, Hendrix, Smith, Carson, Kino and Rhodes junior high schools.
• Close Guerrero Elementary School and create there a Guerrero Achievement Center, which could house seventh through 12th grades, the computer-based Crossroads program and day care for students with children.
• Create a kindergarten through eighth-grade Advanced Academy at Hendrix Junior High School and Frost Elementary School, with kindergarten through third grade located at Frost and fourth through eighth grade at Hendrix. Then move the district’s Eagleridge Program for home-school students to space at Frost from its location at Guadalupe and Extension roads.
• Create a kindergarten through eighth-grade Franklin, a back-to-basics program, at Alma Elementary School.
• Close Powell Junior High School and create a Powell Community Center with community education programs, after-school and before-school programs and other social services.
• Relocate the district’s Early Education Center, currently next to Sunridge at Guadalupe and Extension roads, within existing space at Jordan Elementary School.
• Move students currently at the McKellips alternative school to either Riverview, another district alternative school, or Powell Community Center. The McKellips campus could be used for new programming.
• Move the Sunridge Montessori Program to space at Pomeroy Elementary School. This would empty the district’s buildings at Guadalupe and Extension roads and create space for new programming.
For more information about the district’s proposals or to make comments, see http://www2.mpsaz.org/future/summary.
Community input meetings
The district announced it has changed the location of one community meeting. Meetings are currently scheduled as:
7 p.m. Dec. 1, Powell Junior High School, 855 W. Eighth Ave.
7 p.m. Dec. 8, Mesa Unified School District board room, 549 N. Stapley Drive
Powell Junior High School enrollment history
Guerrero Elementary School enrollment history
2000-01 758 * first year school opened