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MARICOPA — Maricopa Unified School District is tentatively moving forward on plans to build a basic high school using the funds given to it by the State Facilities Board, a feat that has never been done in the state at the high school level.

The MUSD board moved to use an alternative project delivery method of “construction manager at risk,” which will quicken the pace of breaking ground on the high school as well as making the budget more of a priority. It will also require the district to use committees to choose an architect and construction manager at risk that will then be recommended to the board for approval before designing can begin.

The construction manager at risk is used in contrast to another method called design/bid/build, in which costs are less of a priority in favor of design. The window for construction is also smaller. Though the construction manager at risk method is considered an alternative, most districts utilize this as opposed to design/bid/build.

The goal and current timeline indicates that MUSD is on track to open the new high school on July 1, 2022, according to Director of Business Services Jacob Harmon.

The $26 million given to the district by SFB will not be enough to fund anything more than the fundamentals needed to build the school, or any amenities such as carpeted floors or a football field.

“It was very clear in our meeting (with SFB) that the amount of money that has been allocated, while we are very grateful for it, is not intended to build a comprehensive high school like we envision — like our students deserve,” said district Superintendent Tracey Lopeman during a work study session held by the board on Dec. 3.

According to Harmon, this will be the first attempt in Arizona at building a high school structure with only SFB money to support it. Though it was suggested by board members, the money cannot be used to add on to the existing Maricopa High School and must be used on a new site.

Using only SFB money to build a school has been done once before at a primary school in Benson.

“We asked if there were any examples of schools which were built with SFB dollars only, so we know it’s very difficult to build a school of that sort, but not impossible,” Harmon said. “We know there are schools that are closer to 250 to 300 or more dollars per square foot. Benson (Primary) School only had a few dollars to build and they built a metal structure not unlike a barn. The back third was only a roof with outdoor classroom space because they didn’t have enough money to finish the walls. They installed large fans and lattice work.”

That building wouldn’t be completed for five years. Though Benson Primary School was built using the design/bid/build method, that still does not account for the extensive time frame.

The board is still hopeful for a new bond election next year. However, the board is pushing forward with this plan as-is in order to relieve the overpopulated MHS as quickly as possible. Members were also quick to clarify that if the bond issue does not pass, the high school will be built as a “starter school” and will be added onto as funds arrive.

A bond proposal failed recently. Typically state funds, when they are available, are supplemented by local bond money.

The 125,000-square-foot facility will cost approximately $22,461,250, coming in at about $180 per square foot. Early speculation by the board and SFB members indicate it could house up to 1,300 students in a two-story facility not unlike the 100 Building at MHS.

The money will not fund any student technology — something the district has been addressing at other schools in order to achieve a 1:1 ratio between computers and students. There is also some pressure on the timeline, as the portables at MHS are scheduled to leave the school in two years.

As the district pursues a build that has never been done before, it will be in unknown and uncharted territory. This fact was not lost on the board members, nor the SFB, whom MUSD had met with in the weeks previously.

“It was the first thing they told us when we walked in,” Harmon said, quoting the SFB. “‘What’s your plan? Because we know you cannot build a school with the monies we have given you.’”

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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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