District studies use of nonschool facilities - East Valley Tribune: News

District studies use of nonschool facilities

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Posted: Sunday, April 6, 2008 8:15 pm | Updated: 11:08 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

When Scottsdale Unified School District administrators presented a facility use plan to the community in March, governing board and community members noticed something missing in the suggestion to close one school and consolidate two others: any mention of closing or changing nonschool buildings.

Now, district officials are starting to discuss bringing more money into the district by changing other facilities. And one building in particular is on several governing board members' and administrators' radar: the Education Center, housing most of the district's administrators.

The district owns four nonschool facilities. In addition to the Education Center, there are two bus yards and a storage facility dubbed the Warehouse.

Two other locations exist on school campuses: the Mohave District Annex, a building at Mohave Middle School housing many of the district's special-education staff, and a dirt tract near Tavan Elementary School used as a storage area for old furniture.

All four of the nonschool facilities are cheaper to run than the schools, ranging from a little more than $77,000 for a vehicle maintenance facility to $181,000 for the Education Center.

Schools, on the other hand, range from $1.6 million in operating costs for Copper Ridge Elementary School to $7.5 million for Desert Mountain High School. The one school not in that spectrum is Sierra Vista Academy, the district's alternative school, which costs $762,000 a year.

Even though closing a nonschool facility wouldn't save as much money as closing a school, board member Molly Holzer said she likes that option because a site could be rented out to bring additional revenue into the district.

Plus, conversations have come up about moving the Education Center, anyway.

At 44th Street south of Indian School, the district office isn't in a convenient place for many residents of the district, which runs from McKellips Road to Pinnacle Peak Road, Holzer said. And since it's at the extreme western edge of the district in Phoenix, it's not even in the city the district is named for.

But while the current location isn't convenient for most school district residents, it would be an attractive place for businesses, said district officials.

While voters would have to approve not only selling a district facility but also what the money that came out of the sale could be used for, revenue earned from leasing the building is a little different.

"You could actually take that lease payment and it would actually go into your (maintenance and operations budget)," said Holzer. "It wouldn't be huge, but it would be a steady stream."

That's an idea board members Dieter Schaefer and Jennifer Petersen also want to examine closely.

And it's one that district administrators have discussed for a long time, said David Peterson, assistant superintendent for operations.

"The Ed Center is not in the prime location for the school district," Peterson said. "I've talked about it since I've been here the last three years. It's just that when we started this whole dialogue, we wanted to keep this focused on kids."

But ever since board members asked for information on other facilities at a March 4 board meeting, those discussions are getting louder.

District administrators have discussed both moving into a whole school site or blocking off part of a campus and sharing it with students, Peterson said. The empty Education Center could then be rented out or converted into a day care and professional development center.

The school district already has one facility it rents out. In addition to serving as a bus yard, the old Apache Elementary School buildings have been leased to community businesses for about 10 years, Peterson said. Nineteen of the 31 classrooms are leased to groups including Rio Salado College, Boomerz, Scottsdale's clothing bank, a private photographer, woodworkers and a Tai Chi group, bringing in $125,244 a year.

But before moving the Education Center became a viable option, the district would have to answer several questions. For instance, Holzer wants to see research on how much money renting out the Education Center could bring into the district and the likelihood of attracting businesses there.

And while a lot of administrative functions could be decentralized, some departments frequently work together and the district would need to figure out how to house them in the same spot, Peterson said.

But there are doubts. Board member Eric Meyer said he'd love to see the Education Center in a different location, but offices can't just be moved into classrooms.

"Everyone's talking about it, but no one's talking about a place it would go that makes sense at this point," Meyer said. "We'd spend a lot more money retrofitting a school campus than what we'd save."

Board president Karen Beckvar had more confidence in the idea, but pointed out the existing Education Center could also use some renovations, she said.

"When it was built, that was the center, at least the north-south center, of the district. Things change in 50 years," Beckvar said. "If we could do something that would keep some of the changes away from our schools, I would look at that as an option."

That's not to say changes to schools are off the table. Plus, the amount of money the district needs to cut from its budget is a moving target, Peterson said.

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