Ryan Stanton, rstanton@ExplorerNews.com
Dec. 21, 2005 - The old rodeo grounds along the frontage road in northern Marana could be the site of a new high school in three to five years, Marana Unified School District officials say.
The district already owns the property but it will need to relocate its transportation and maintenance departments to another site if it wants to make room for a full-fledged high school there, said Maintenance Director Bob Thomas. The departments are currently housed next to Marana Middle School, where the high school is expected to be built.
The district's governing board voted Dec. 8 to approve the purchase of a 15-acre piece of land south of Avra Valley Road and west of Interstate 10, where the two departments will relocate in the near future. The district is expected to pay $975,000 for the land, which belongs to Greg Wexler of Continental Ranch Development.
Thomas said the majority of the funding will come from the proceeds of a previous land sale to Pulte Homes, which is earmarked for new land purchases.
The district owns about 45 acres behind the maintenance and transportation facilities, part of which it currently allows the town to use for rodeos, Thomas said. That space is not quite large enough for a high school, which is why the departments need to relocate to free up about 15 more acres, he said.
"We're going to need another high school here in a few years," Thomas said, adding that Marana and Mountain View high schools will be well over capacity if a third high school isn't built. "Probably in the next three to five years, we're going to build a new high school, so the relocation will have to be done just before that."
A fourth high school will likely be built east of I-10 if the proposed 7,000-home development known as Tortolita Mountain Ranch pops up next to the smaller San Lucas development, he said.
Looking seven years out, Thomas said, the district will probably build three new elementary schools and another middle school, too. The district recently requested funding from the state's School Facilities Board to fund two new elementary schools - one near Continental Reserve and another near Thornydale and Tangerine roads.
If the old rodeo grounds disappear to make way for a new high school, it might not be a loss to the sport, though. The town plans to construct a multimillion-dollar western events center, possibly as early as 2006, in northern Marana, said Mayor Ed Honea.
Honea said the arena could hold up to 5,000 people. The town already has interest from several "heavy hitters" and is looking to launch an organized campaign to solicit between $8 million and $15 million from developers to build the arena, he said.
In another unanimous vote Dec. 8, the school district's governing board approved a reorganization of its transportation department, which was the subject of controversy this past summer. The reorganization, at a net cost of about $60,000, creates an organizational structure that upgrades the department's capabilities and anticipates growth in the future.
Transportation Director Don Powers sought approval of an overhaul of the department in June without presenting the idea to many of his employees, which caused a stir and resulted in the proposal being tabled while an in-house committee was formed. The changes presented in June amounted to a savings of $3,240, though changes have been made to that proposal.
Powers had originally proposed eliminating one route driver position, which drew criticism from bus drivers who say the district is already short-staffed. The approved reorganization no longer includes making that cut.
"It wasn't necessary to cut back the one route driver anymore," Powers said. "As we went through and upgraded the four positions, we actually had generated a savings by consolidating some routes at the beginning of the year."
Sharon Woolridge, a secretary to Powers, who was one of many to oppose the presentation in June, said she was content with the result.
"Before, the department didn't have a very good understanding of it," she said. "Now that it's been explained in a little bit more detail, I think we're a little bit happier with it."
Powers said the district will finalize job descriptions and post openings for eight new positions soon. The addition of four full-time trainers, an operations manager, garage manager and two field trainers will add more supervision to the department, he said.
"The intent of the reorganization is to bring a more modern structure to the transportation department to make us more responsive to the public and to student issues," Powers said.
Another change to the reorganization since June includes an additional transportation field manager who will help resolve service complaints and investigate accidents. Powers said the change came at the request of the steering committee, which thought a second field position was needed because of the size of the district and potential for growth.
Tamara Crawley, the district's community relations coordinator, noted that no one spoke against the changes to the department at the last meeting, and one bus driver actually stood up and spoke in favor of the reorganization.
"The district is pleased with the amount of participation and input by all members of the transportation department," she said. "We feel confident that this plan will improve the efficiencies and the work processes within the transportation department."