A celebrated charter school appears poised to open a facility in Oro Valley.
The Oro Valley Town Council gave the operators of BASIS Charter School, which also has branches in Tucson and Scottsdale, unanimous approval Monday night to begin work on a new school in the Steam Pump Village shopping center.
The approval involved negotiating on the part of the town and owners of the shopping center, Evergreen Steam Pump, L.L.C.
In an effort to fast-track the development, Evergreen offered to turn over to the town a 75,000-square foot parcel at the northern end of the shopping center dedicated to open space. The council, in turn, accepted the land in lieu of charging $157,000 in permits and development impact fees for the new school.
The 75,000-square-foot parcel would be appraised to determine its value. If that value is less than the waived permits and fees, Evergreen would pay any balance through phased payments. Those payments would be made out of the existing economic development agreement between Evergreen and the town on Steam Pump Village. In that accord, the company receives a rebated portion of sales taxes generated at the site.
The council also agreed to waive the 1 percent public art provision, which mandates that commercial developers spend 1 percent of construction costs on public art displays.
Council members also included a provision that the town has some say on which appraiser would appraise the traded property. In addition, Evergreen agreed to maintain and keep up the traded open space parcel.
BASIS officials have said they want to have the school ready to open in August, in time for the next school term. School officials have obtained funding for the new facility through the City of Florence Industrial Development Authority.
School founder Michael Block said BASIS has already started searching for faculty members for the new school. Finding the right people could be a challenge based on the school's reputation.
"It's always a challenge to staff at the quality we operate," Block said.
Block said the school, a public charter school open to all students, would start as a grade 5-9 facility with roughly 400 students. The school eventually would expand to 12th grade and include 600 pupils.
BASIS schools have been lauded among some in education circles for their exacting curriculum and student achievement. National publications like Newsweek magazine have called the schools some of the best in the country. A recent documentary film similarly pronounced the school one of the top in the nation and a model for public education.
One member of the community did bring up some concerns about the deal. Resident Doug McKee said the trade risked running afoul of state law.
"It sure would appear that this proposal would violate the gift clause," McKee commented.
The gift clause of the Arizona Constitution prohibits governments from providing subsides of public funds or assets to private interests.
"As much as we would like to help BASIS, this is not the way," McKee said.
Town Attorney Tobin Rosen said the deal likely would not violate the gift clause because the trade is equitable, with the landowner agreeing to pay the equivalent value of impact fees with the open space property out of the economic development funds.
The issue of incentives for economic development has been a matter of contention in the town, particularly as it relates to retail developments.
Over the past several years, the town has entered into economic development deals with four retail developers, including Steam Pump Village owner's Evergreen.
In August 2007, the council voted to stop using incentives to foster retail development.
Then, in June 2008, the council voted down a proposal from pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-aventis to rebate a portion of construction sales taxes in return for the company building its new Oro Valley facilities to strict environmental and energy efficient standards. The firm ultimately did build to the higher standard, even without the rebate.
At the time, Councilman Bill Garner commented that the town should not offer such incentives without a policy in place that defines how such inducements would be made.
Garner attended the meeting on Monday night by telephone and was unavailable for comment after the vote on the BASIS question.
"It's not the same situation at all," Councilman KC Carter said. "This school is trying to get started and it would be a big plus for the town."