CAMPUSES IN CRISIS: Southern Arizona schools need millions in bu - Tucson News Now

CAMPUSES IN CRISIS: Southern Arizona schools need millions in building repairs

(Source: Tucson News Now) (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Ask any parent with a student in their home and they'll likely tell you the trip to and from school can be a bit of a rat race. 

For Sara Tovar, it’s a constant struggle she feels can’t be won.

Tovar often drives her grandson Sean Jackson to class at Palo Verde High Magnet School. 

They try to arrive at least 30 minutes before everyone else so they can claim one of only three handicap accessible parking spots in front of the school. 

Sean has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome – a connective tissue disorder. He sometimes uses a wheelchair, but even when he’s not, any additional strain on his legs can lead to excruciating pain.

Sara Tovar and her grandson Sean Jackson in the parking lot at Palo Verde High Magnet School. (Source: Tucson News Now)

Potential pain is also quite common when Sean tries to enter the school because the heavy doors don't open automatically.  

Once inside the school, Tovar’s grandson continues to struggle. Since arriving at Palo Verde two years ago, Sean has had problems with the school’s lone elevator.

“If the elevator is broken, he can't make it up the stairs to the classes,” Tovar said.

At one point, the elevator broke and Shawn was trapped on the second floor because he could not get down the stairs. 

“He called me hysterical because the elevator was broken and he couldn't get it to open,” Tovar said.

Tucson News Now checked with the school and learned five separate work orders have been placed to fix the elevator. It’s currently working, but Sean and his grandmother are not holding their breath about whether that will last. 

A chiller unit at Catalina Magnet High School. (Source: Tucson News Now)

A Huge Need

Palo Verde is part of the Tucson Unified School District. 

Tucson News Now found the district needs $204 million in immediate building repairs. The district said some of the repairs are four years overdue. A complete list of the district's needs is available HERE.

“We're trying to fix the Band-Aids and we want to do some improvements at the same time,” said Bryant Nodine, Director of Planning Services for TUSD. 

The Tucson Unified School District's list of immediate building repairs.

While on a tour of Catalina Magnet High School, Nodine took Tucson News Now on top of the school’s 60-year-old roof. 

The desert heat has dried out the granular roof and it has started to crack. When it rains, water will often seep into the halls and classrooms. 

“What do you do? You patch and you patch and you patch and you patch some more,” Nodine said. 

The school’s AC system has at least one 20-year-old unit. It’s one of 30 systems in need of being replaced within the district. 

The school’s interim principal, Antasio Holley, praises Catalina's rich history and character, but admits it needs an overhaul. 

“My wish list is just to come in and gut it internally,” Holley said.  

The district said part of the reason the repairs have gone undone is because of state funding cuts. 

“The district receives a tenth of what’s needed to maintain 9 million square feet of buildings. We basically get 30 cents per square foot per year,” Nodine said. 

The industry standard is closer to $3 per square foot per year, according to Nodine. 

Since 2008, the district says $119 million from the state have been slashed.

An old alarm and security system at Amphi High. The district is in the design phase to have it replaced using voter approved bond money. There are seven additional panels to replace district-wide. (Source: Tucson News Now)

Deep Budget Cuts

Other districts in southern Arizona told Tucson News Now they have also experienced state cuts. As a result, some repairs or improvements have been skipped over. 

“Students need to be comfortable and focused on the teacher and the material they're studying," said Jim Burns, the executive manager of operational support for the Amphitheater School District. "A leaking roof or toilets that don’t work or air conditioning that doesn't work … all ruin that environment.”

Holley said he thinks so much money is spent on day-to-day fixes, there’s not enough left over to make major technological improvements.

“We're in the 21st century," Holley said. "We need to take what we expect in a 21st century and apply it to teaching and learning for our kids."

However, 21st century upgrades carry a hefty price tag. 

The district estimates its schools need up to $300 million in advancements to technology, efficiency and education function. 

“It's just like in a home if you have kids sharing an old computer while trying to do their homework and it's not working. And then you have a roof that needs to be fixed because it's leaking. How do I balance those things?” Nodine said. 

For some schools, voter-approved bond money is used to pay for repairs. In other cases, schools reach out to the Schools Facilities Board, but the process to get the funding from SFB can be lengthy. 

“It's really a moral struggle for me to leave an air conditioner broken because I don't have enough capital to fix it or I'm awaiting this process,” Burns said. 

Ultimately, Burns would like to see the money allocated to the school districts.

“That way a professional in facilities maintenance could work to spend the money appropriately,” he said.

Not all requests for grant money from the SFB are approved. 

A pothole in the parking lot of Palo Verde High School. (Source: Tucson News Now)

Going Without

The Nogales Unified School District experienced that earlier this year when it asked for money to repair crumbling sidewalks. 

Superintendent Fernando Parra told Tucson News Now more than 80 percent of the district's capital funding has been cut from the state budget. Parra said the more critical cuts have been made the past three years.

Currently, NUSD has more than $1.3 million in building repairs with no funding. A complete breakdown of the NUSD repair projects is available HERE.

For fiscal year 2016, the SFB granted more than $25 million in Building Renewal Grant money to schools across the state. 

The Amphi School District is currently facing $22,713,779 in deficiencies. A rundown of those projects can be viewed HERE.

For the Catalina Foothills School District, repair projects are broken down into three categories: 

  • Building renovations and improvements: $11 million
  • Improvements to grounds: $6 million
  • Energy efficiency upgrades: $3 million 

The list of Catalina Foothils' building renovations and improvements plan is available HERE.

The Vail School District has several projects in need of completion but they are at a standstill because of a lack in funding. 

Over the next five years, Vail would like to do the following: 

  • Carpeting/flooring replacement. Cost: $1,000,000
  • Parking lots needing replacement or repair. Cost: $800,000
  • HVAC, estimating the loss of 120 to 150 HVAC units over the next five years. Cost: $900,000
  • Support Vehicles: Half of the current fleet mileages exceeds 250,000 per vehicle, fleet requires replacement and augmentation to provide support to all facilities. Cost: $550,000
  • General repair issues, lifting sidewalks, landscaping/irrigation repair, building repairs. Cost: $250,000
  • Exterior painting/sealing. Cost: $ 500,000

(Source: Tucson News Now)

Vail's oldest serviceable bus is from 1994 and has more than 430,000 miles on it. Another bus, from 1997, is at 400,000 miles. It's likely there are people on the district's payroll who were born AFTER those buses were built.

In an email, the district said there is always a need to attrition out old buses and purchase new buses to replace them, as well as requiring additional buses for student growth, amounting to $500,000 per year.

Some schools in the Sahuarita Unified School District will see upgrades depending on the availability of district dollars.  

Right now, two of the district's eight schools will have their roofs resealed and re-coated this summer at a cost of $100,000. 

In addition, two of the schools' parking lots will be resealed at a cost of $50,000. 

Carpeting in 30 rooms across the district are in need of being replaced because of significant aging. 

The district said 20 of its HVAC units have reached the end of use and need to be replaced at a cost of $8,500 each. 

All fencing across the district is in need of being repainted. 

A roof leak is rotting wood at Lulu Walker School. (Source: Tucson News Now)

Aging Facilities

The Marana Unified School District said it’s extremely grateful and fortunate to have a capital improvement bond approved by voters to assist with certain repairs. The MUSD said the state simply hasn't provided funding to public school districts for capital improvements/building/repairs. 

The district’s current challenge is the age of several of its campuses. The 30-year-old facilities have old water lines and electrical equipment. 

This year, two campuses will need to have their main electrical equipment replaced. 

In addition, a failing underground water supply will need to be replaced at two campuses. 

Flowing Wells Unified School District Superintendent David Baker said they are working to foresee building renewal needs and budget accordingly.

Currently, there are several goals to install energy efficient lighting, repave parking lots and upgrade bathroom facilities. Using SFB funding earlier this year, the district was able to replace the roof at Walter Douglas Elementary. 

Sunnyside Unified School District was unable to provide a list of current building repair needs. 

TUSD District Facilities Master Plan 2016-2023 by Tucson News Now on Scribd

Catalina Foothills School District Facility Improvement Plan by Tucson News Now on Scribd

Amphitheater Public Schools Facility Needs by Tucson News Now on Scribd

Nogales Unified School District Repair List by Tucson News Now on Scribd

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