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EESD to receive $1.8 million grant
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ELOY — The Eloy Elementary School District is set to receive $1.8 million through the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund.

District Superintendent Ruby James had a lot to report to the district Governing Board during its monthly meeting on Tuesday, much of which revolved around how to use the $1.8 million.

“This is the hard work of us putting together a mitigation plan that shows that we’re putting money to open up our schools safely,” James said. “Part of that grant is for a retention stipend for staff, to retain staff, teachers, administrators, support staff.”

James presented the board with two options and suggested that the first one was the best, which the board later approved during the meeting.

The approved option includes benefits and utilizes $586,000 of the grant and leaves nearly $1.3 million to be used for other needs.

The second option that was available would have left the district with more money available after the pandemic stipend paid to staff, but that money could only be spent on a need.

“Not a want, but a need for the district,” James said. “There are three ESSER grants, we have received one and with that one we have utilized it for mitigation. We got all our cleaning supplies, we got disinfectants, masks, we have put a lot of money with the first ESSER grant because we were not sure we were going to qualify or a get a chunk of the second.”

According to James, due to the district’s mitigation plan and the fact that the Eloy area is a high-risk area with a lot of positive COVID-19 cases, the district was awarded the $1.8 million.

The rest of the grant will go toward the district’s white fleet and technology.

“We have also signed on for free internet with Mitrelink, now we can give each student a modem so they can bring Wi-Fi into their home. We would be ready if we should ever have to shut down our schools and go virtual, every teacher, every student, you guys and myself, we’ll be able to connect and work as one without me sending out a message or going on ClassDojo. All the students in Eloy would have a modem and they can also use our system for the high school. The tower is big enough and high enough that the high school students can also be part of this free internet.”

James announced that Eloy Intermediate School received a separate grant to hold a summer school program.

Eloy Intermediate Principal Chrystal Reyes told the board that the focus of the summer program will be to target learning loss during the pandemic.

James also told the board that the district has an opportunity to partner up with Central Arizona College to hold GED classes at Eloy Intermediate School.

Additionally, the city of Eloy and the Eloy Division for Self & Community Improvement are working on bringing child care services to the area.

James reported that Mayor Micah Powell reached out to EDSCI and inquired about using the former Pinal Gila Head Start building as it is the only building available to be licensed for child care services.

“We feel at this time it is important,” James said. “EDSCI has always been about the children in the community, and we feel it’s important that child care is provided to the parents here in the community.”

During the meeting the board approved renewing contracts of the principals at all three schools and district Business Manager Ed Sauceda for the upcoming school year.

The board also approved extending James’ contract for three years until 2025.

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Pair of entrepreneurs present idea for using Eloy's Dust Bowl
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ELOY — It’s a rare occasion when the City Council agrees on something that pertains to the Dust Bowl Theatre.

Council members are usually on opposite ends of the table when it comes to deciding whether the building should be restored to some extent or demolished.

During Monday’s work session, the council reviewed a presentation from entrepreneurs Chad Dexter and Schwann Hanns about their idea to turn the building into the Dust Bowl Entertainment District.

The council also briefly heard about an alternative concept from city staff if the decision is to demolish the building and turn the space into a park.

Community Development Director Jon Vlaming told the council that a park would allow the city to later develop the site, if there ever is an interest, without leaving a vacant lot if the building were to be demolished.

The park would include a plaza on the corner of Main and Frontier streets and a gazebo town square.

Both projects would incorporate the Eloy Veterans Heritage Park and both plans take into consideration the Veterans Center, which will be moving to a new location.

Hanns told the council that by demolishing the building and turning it into a park, the city would lose money, and parks do not generate revenue.

He also added that Main Street Park is located a few blocks over.

“Main Street doesn’t need a vacant lot, Main Street doesn’t need a park, Main Street needs business,” Hanns said. “The reason we want the Dust Bowl up and running is because that will bring people into the city of Eloy, specifically to Main Street, and that invites other investors to come to Main Street.”

Dexter and Hanns have already bought two parcels on Main Street and are working on bringing a spirits distillery and manufacturer of health supply products as well as selling Native American jewelry and art crafts.

They hope to have the first phase completed later this year, following delays due to paperwork issues. Additionally, Hanns and Dexter were in a rush to produce health supplies and started operating out of Tempe with a project that has garnered most of their attention.

“Our expectation of how the process goes was a little different than how it happened,” Hanns said. “It’s not anybody’s fault, it’s just we were not familiar with the city and how it works and no one was familiar with us.”

The duo hopes to accomplish two other phases in their efforts to help draw more people to the area. The second phase includes the Dust Bowl and turning it into an event venue as a welcome hub to the city and the third phase is to expand the manufacturing of alcohol to a full-scale ethanol fuel plant.

Dexter told the council that they are not asking for any type of funding for the Dust Bowl project and they do not expect city staff to help manage the venue once it is complete.

The plan for the Dust Bowl is to have a place for live events such as corporate events or community events such as weddings and dances.

Additionally, the building would include an arcade, a museum and gift shop as well as a small shop for clothing and accessories.

There would also be 18 booths available for food vendors to set up with windows that will allow people to stop by on the outside to get food.

One of the council’s concerns was what happens if this project doesn’t come to fruition and the building remains vacant.

“I don’t think anyone is doubting that this is a cool idea but is it real?” Councilwoman Sara Curtis said. “Can it actually happen?”

The council was also a bit apprehensive and cautious as they found the project to be a lofty goal.

“This building has been like this for a long time, for 20-something years as I understand,” Hanns said. “You guys have nothing to lose. We either do it or we don’t do it, I mean there’s nothing to lose for the residents or the City Council. At least you are giving the opportunity to somebody who is willing to do it with their own money, without you spending a dime. If we can’t fulfill our promise then just take it back, we’re willing to sign a contract. … I don’t understand where that stress is coming from.”

Mayor Micah Powell stated that the city has been taken advantage of in the past and the current council doesn’t want to make mistakes.

“If we give you the green light and you guys start, then it fails, the mud is on our face,” Powell said. “We could have made other efforts somewhere else, that could have been done then and there. One thing I don’t want to do is paint a picture of everything, making it look nice and then egg falling on our face. I think we’re protecting ourselves from ghosts of the past. If it can be done, that’s great. I’ve told you that, but I’ve also told that it’s going to be a money pit. … I don’t want this to be a double-edged sword of negativity.”

Economic Development Specialist Jeff Fairman mentioned that he is fascinated by Dexter and Hanns’ proposal because it’s not something that staff would try to go out and bring to the city. But along with his fascination, he also understood the council’s concerns.

“The worst thing that can happen is that a year from now we get the building back and we have another PhoenixMart on our hands or another Dreamport Village,” Fairman said. “I don’t want to create expectations that we’re not able to carry through simply because that has been a black eye on a lot of the communities around here.”

Fairman believes that more research needs to be done and Powell added that lodging would be an issue as Dexter and Hanns plan to bring in clients from different states and from other parts of Arizona for the corporate events.

“This is going to be a cart before the horse,” Fairman said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen until there’s a better market for a hotel.”

Council members Dan Snyder, Georges Reuter and Curtis all questioned if Dexter and Hanns have previous experience with this type of project.

“We haven’t done any project like this,” Hanns said. “We’re not presenting it as a construction company, we are presenting it as business owners on Main Street. The reason we picked this idea is because we talked to a lot of people in the city of Eloy and outside the city of Eloy, in California and Arizona. As far as the optimum option, this was what everybody agrees on.”

Hanns mentioned that he has experience working in commercial real estate and has worked with businesses in Old Town Scottsdale. He also owns a business of Native American jewelry and expressed that the main purpose of this project is to bring people and businesses to the area.

“I agree that downtown Eloy has one thing and that’s Main Street, that has potential,” Reuter said. “The rest has no potential as it is now. If we don’t get Main Street running, the rest of downtown will not prosper to where we want it. … We’ve put a lot of money in the facades, we’ve put a lot of money in the water tower and if we don’t put the effort in Main Street as a place for people to come to eat, to drink, to have fun, downtown Eloy will never live up again.”

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Vaccines available for Eloy residents in 3 clinics
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ELOY — It took some time but Eloy residents 55 and over are finally able to schedule an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine in their city.

During Monday night’s City Council meeting, Mayor Micah Powell announced that there will be three clinics available to residents who qualify for the vaccine.

“Staff has been working hard on bringing in COVID vaccines to the residents,” Powell said. “We’re really excited about this because it gives our residents an opportunity to be vaccinated.”

From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday and March 15, Sun Life Family Health Center will administer the Moderna vaccine to those with an appointment at City Hall. Appointments can be made by calling 520-836-3446 and selecting Option 1.

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on March 16, Safeway and Albertsons will be onsite with the Pfizer vaccine. The link to register for a spot is available on the city’s website.

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Eloy council on the fence about adding Boys & Girls Club
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ELOY — Members of the Eloy community are not fully on board with the idea of having the Boys & Girls Clubs come in and replace the city’s after-school program, which is run by the Recreation Division.

During a lengthy City Council work session on March 1, a handful of residents came before the council and expressed their support for the city program.

At the council retreat earlier this year there was a discussion about establishing a Boys & Girls Club and the council requested information about the services and programing, cost and the city’s obligations for establishing a club.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor has six locations throughout Pinal County, with a majority of them in Casa Grande.

Executive Director Matt Lemberg told the council that all the locations have an art room, computer lab, game room, learning center and gym.

Each club offers a variety of programs such as:

  • Power Hour: an engaging homework help and tutoring program that encourages club members to become self-directed learners.
  • SMART Moves: a prevention and education program.
  • Torch Club: a small group leadership and service club.
  • Triple Play: a comprehensive health and wellness program that strives to improve the overall health of club members by increasing daily physical activity, teaching them about good nutrition and helping them develop healthy relationships.

Another program that is offered at one of the Casa Grande locations is specifically for the older kids and is virtual, implemented because of the pandemic.

Safety is always a big concern for parents and the organization conducts annual background checks on all employees and volunteers. There is also a member tracking system of who is allowed to pick up the kids.

According to Lemberg, there are three requirements that communities must meet before a Boys & Girls Club is established: having a location, a fundraising plan and a community board.

“There’s no cookie cutter to this,” Lemberg said. “Different communities have different needs, different strengths and different opportunities. Nothing is set in stone. Eloy is very different from Casa Grande and Maricopa so we know that it will look different.”

Lemberg said that based off projections, it would not cost more than $325,000 to operate a Boys & Girls Club in Eloy, and he anticipates that it would cost less.

The organization’s revenue breakdown from 2018-19, before the pandemic, had a majority of the funding coming from business and individual contributions and program income. The organization also receives income from fundraising events, government support and grants.

The program fee in Casa Grande and Maricopa is $65 per month; in Arizona City the fee is $10 per year.

Lemberg did not offer a comparison with the city program.

“With all due respect, I can’t speak to what is going on currently (with the city program),” he said. “What we came prepared to do is talking about what we can do. I don’t know that we’re prepared to say here’s what we do and here’s the difference. Here’s what’s better, here’s what’s worse.”

Community Services Director Paul Anchondo was asked a similar question as to what the kids would lose if the council decided to change programs.

“That’s an extremely difficult question to answer and I think it depends on who you ask,” Anchondo said. “In my opinion the programs are very similar. We carry great value in what we do, we think we provide a great quality service to the community, but we understand if as a community, the council is looking to grow and do things in a different manner.”

One difference that was talked about was that the city’s program offers field trips for the kids.

Anchondo offered that if the decision were to move forward with the Boys & Girls Club, his staff is willing to help in any way they can.

Lemberg added that the organization got rid of its field trips due to lack of interest from the kids they service but if there is an interest in Eloy, the trips could be brought back.

A rumor has circulated around the community that if the city does decide to move forward with the Boys & Girls Club, that the employees running the city’s program would lose their job.

Mayor Micah Powell shut down that rumor and stated that no one would be fired because of that reason.

Anchondo told the council the department would be restructured, and services would be expanded in other areas.

The funding portion was a concern for Councilman Dan Snyder as well as some of the community members.

City Manager Harvey Krauss said that the city would provide some funding and Rosie Coyle expressed her interest in seeing the money trail of how much the city would contribute to the Boys & Girls Club and how much it offers to the Recreation program.

Another concern for residents was the location and how the Boys & Girls Club would implement all of its programs if there isn’t a change from where the current program is held.

“A building, that’s something that our community needs,” Catrina Brown said. “If we were bringing this Boys & Girls Club in to a building, that’s a different story, but if we’re just shoving them into our cafeteria, what’s different? It’s going to be the same thing right now. I would like to see a building where the kids can go and call it their own, not the same place that they’re at for eight hours.”

In the audience were also three teachers from the Eloy Elementary School District who provided feedback about the Recreation program, as their kids had gone through the program.

Leticia Jimenez and Michelle Garrison agreed that the programs sound similar. Jimenez pointed out that the Boys & Girls Club is a name brand, but that the city program already offers many of the same things.

“I feel that as a city, for many years, we have neglected our kids,” Garrison said. “I think we’re being unfair to the Parks and Rec program. … It’s hard to do a lot when they have so little, I think they’ve done phenomenal. There are certain things that I agree, I really like the Boys & Girls Club for the fact that they do service the older generation of kids because we don’t do much for that group.”

Vice Mayor Andrew Rodriguez is a big supporter of bringing in the Boys & Girls Club and reached out to Lemberg. The rest of the council liked the idea but believes that it may not be the right time.

The city program currently has 25-30 kids registered during the school year and services around 70 kids in the summertime.