TUSD must decide fate of nine closed schools

Some folks fret about decay of neighborhoods, but new uses could become a benefit
2010-06-15T00:00:00Z TUSD must decide fate of nine closed schoolsAlexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 15, 2010 12:00 am  • 

After months of discussions about merging and closing schools, the Tucson Unified School District is nearing the final stages of shutting nine campuses.

But questions remain about the future of the sites and the neighborhoods that have surrounded them for at least 35 years, and in one case, nearly a century.

Community input is being sought on what to do with the properties in an effort to keep everyone's best interest at heart, district planner Bryant Nodine said.

The savings from the closures - some of which were voluntary and others initiated by the district - are expected to total an estimated $1.5 million to $2 million, said TUSD Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, who is leaving the district June 30 for a post in Colorado.

The district will take those savings and return a percentage to each of the remaining school sites for the 2010-11 school year.

That will allow the schools to restore a small portion of the 10 percent reductions that had to be made as a result of declining enrollment and state budget cuts.

Property options

• Mothball the building and maintain the facility and grounds. Utility costs would decrease but would not be eliminated so that some systems - such as security and fire alarms - could remain in place.

• Use the building for storage.

• Demolish the building and leave the land vacant, which would require the district only to maintain the grounds.

• Sell it, which would require a public vote. Even then, the money resulting from the sale would go toward paying down the public debt, not toward TUSD's budget problems.

• Rent or lease it. Nodine has received numerous inquiries from various entities including churches, organizations, charter schools and developer KB Home. He declined to go into detail on any of the proposals.

• Make a trade with another municipal entity for property of equal value.

What neighbors say

Despite promises to keep up the grounds and the facilities of any closed schools, residents worry about whether the district will keep its word.

"The worst thing that could happen for TUSD and for neighbors is for this building to go vacant," said Tim Scott, who lives in the Wrightstown neighborhood. "What a sad thought to think that what was once a lively center of learning in this community - a historic center of learning - would be a boarded up, windows broken, run-down, useless crime-attracting piece of property for this part of town."

Sonja Baker can see the Wrights- town playground from the steps of her front door. She has lived in her home for 12 years, and two of her children attended the school.

While she understands why her neighborhood school has to close, she is concerned not only about the upkeep but also about the possibility of the facility being converted into something that wouldn't benefit the neighborhood.

"If another school, maybe a charter, comes in, that would be fine, but I don't want a little subdivision there," she said. "Administrative offices would also work, or maybe a teacher learning center."

Past solutions

For the last five years, the World Care nonprofit agency has operated in what used to be Julia Keen Elementary School.

The campus, at 3538 E. Ellington Place, was closed in 2004 because it was near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base's flight path.

The building and grounds were appraised at $1.1 million, but it was leased to the organization in 2005 in exchange for $1 a year and in-kind donations to TUSD to include computers and supplies for teachers. The partnership absolved TUSD from any maintenance and upkeep responsibilities.

World Care founder Lisa Hopper called the situation a "win-win," because the agency acquired a space that was more than three times the size of its previous facility, and students benefit from the donations that are made to the district.

"Financially, World Care bears the burden of insurance, upkeep, maintenance and security of the facility," Hopper said. "There is no financial burden at all on TUSD. But it's not just about the dollar. It's also about the resources we provide.

"I believe World Care has been one of their best decisions, because we complement TUSD. It's been a very nice relationship," she said.

World Care supports more than 170 local nonprofit organizations and is known for its school-supply drive called Tools for Schools.

On StarNet: Find education-related resources such as on-campus crime statistics, charter and private school listings, and the Student of the Week feature at azstarnet.com/education

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at 573-4175 or ahuicochea@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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