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MARICOPA — With plans for the second high school on Farrell and Murphy roads taking shape, Maricopa Unified School District board members voiced major concerns over the lack of basic amenities the school will have at a Wednesday night board meeting.

The district plans on using State Facilities Board money to entirely fund the beginning phase of the high school, a feat that has never been achieved before at the high school level in Arizona. The decision came shortly after the 2019 bond measure failed to pass, and the SFB recommended a new high school. Maricopa High School is currently overcapacity with more than 2,400 students, as of a year ago, on a campus built for 1,800.

The first phase will use $18,570,000 worth of the $26 million allocated to MUSD by SFB, which comes out to about $148 per square foot. To put that into perspective, project manager for Chasse Building Team Jeremy Keck listed several other high schools built in the last few years, including West Point High School built for $330 per square foot, Eastmark for $260 per square foot and Chandler for $292 per square foot.

The question was raised of why build a 125,000 square feet building when the district has $18.5 million, instead of a 100,000 square feet and make it more complete. However, the formula as given by SFB says the district can get $180 per square foot for up to 125,000 square feet, granted one square at a time.

With the budget in mind, cutting had to be done.

“We started to cut until we got down to the $18,570,000, and this is tough because some of these are easy, and some of them are really, really tough,” Keck said. ‘I want to go through what those concessions are really quickly.”

Those concessions include cuts to every part of campus life, including athletics, technology, basic instruction and extracurriculars.

First, the property itself was scaled down to 12 acres instead of 16. Parking lots will no longer have asphalt, and there will be limited concrete sidewalks.

“Our classroom building will be a wood frame building,” Keck said. “It’s what we see a lot with charter schools, I would say not that ideal for a 50- to 100-year building. Ideally most classroom buildings we see these days are either going to be masonry or concrete.”

Furthermore, there will be no canopies or shaded outdoor spaces. Gym walls have shrunk from 30 to 40 feet to about 13 to 14 feet of usable space and the roof of the building will be a low-cost foam material that requires more maintenance for the cheaper price tag. Just 8% of the building will have glass and there will be no window coverings.

However, “the interiors, this is probably where we start to feel it the most,” Keck said.

The walls will not have any interior glazing, meaning they will be drywall. Only one wall of tile can be afforded for each bathroom. Sealed concrete will be used as flooring, even in the gym. Only about half the classrooms will have storage space, and lab areas for science have been reduced from 40 square feet to 12. Band and choir will not have storage space for equipment and there will be no acoustic walls for noise control.

There is no money for any athletic equipment, lockers or bleachers. Food preparation equipment for the cafeteria has been cut, so food will have to be outsourced for students.

Another cut that had to be made was to the teaching walls.

“We typically would see two teaching walls in a classroom in a standard high school these days. We will be lucky if we have one in each classroom,” Keck said.

Additionally, there will be no Smartboards, projectors or TVs. Security systems, cameras and card readers are also out of budget. Even the Wi-Fi was hard to allocate funds for.

“We have minimal cabling,” Keck continued. “Cabling and Wi-Fi is pretty important in a new high school, but it’s going to be minimal. We’ll probably have one to two drops per classroom, and we have to have it per code for the fire alarm and the elevator.”

Perhaps most shocking in a desert school was a cut to the dining areas. The 5,000-square-foot dining area will now be uncovered outside as 12,000 additional square feet of cafeteria and P.E. space was cut.

“To describe a shell — I would say you have the outside walls, you have a roof, but nothing else,” Keck said.

After Keck’s presentation on cuts, some board members began questioning continuing with the high school at all.

“As a community member, why would I want to send my kid there? I mean, it’s going to be gross,” board member Torri Anderson said. “After describing everything it’s not going to have, I’m just wondering if we need to refocus and decide maybe we need to do something else or wait a year until we can pass a bond. … What we’re doing with $18 million is nothing.”

Anderson also mentioned the school will not be within the boundaries of the district, a fact she is concerned that residents were not aware of.

While the north side of Farrell Road is in MUSD boundaries, the land for the new high school sits on the south side of Farrell, which surprisingly is in the Casa Grande Union High School District. Mishell Terry, spokeswoman for MUSD, later confirmed this in an email.

“The school will be built by Maricopa Unified School District and MUSD students who live within MUSD boundaries have priority admission,” Terry wrote. “We will enroll students from neighboring districts when space is available. In Arizona, an open enrollment state, it is common to welcome students from other districts as long as there is space available.”

After hearing what it would mean to build a high school with no additional funding from a bond or override, the board recognized its conundrum. Though the high school needs more funding, many on the board agreed that it was not a good year to try to pass a bond or override due to the current economy.

“Here’s my thoughts in talking to the community since I have to gather signatures — and I have to talk to a lot of people — they are absolutely against a bond. Don’t even try it this year,” Anderson said. “I don’t think we have the time. I think we’ve waited so long to make this decision, we really don’t have the time to promote either one successfully.”

Board members agreed that early promotion of the bond measure would help pass it in the long run, and that the pandemic has put more financial strain on voters.

“Although I understand the need for the bond — this district needs it and we need the override continuation — I think in light of the pandemic, and the people that are out of work and not knowing how we’re going to come back, this year would be a really bad year to put something on the ballot,” board member Patti Coutre said.

Jim Jordan, the newest board member, concurred and reiterated the need for early-voter intervention and information in order to secure a successful vote.

The board chose to table the bond agenda item, which included measures for board re-election, due to its wording. A vote was postponed until the next meeting.

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Katie Sawyer covers Maricopa and the surrounding area for PinalCentral, including city, education, business, crime and more. She can be reached at ksawyer@pinalcentral.com.

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