Tucson Oddity: South Park mosaics speak to neighborhood struggles

The three mosaic panels address concerns and problems in the South Park neighborhood, which helped create the artwork. The pieces were completed in 1998 as part of an improvement project, and some residents say the public art retains important meaning for them.


A fenced-in patch of desert flecked with chollas and scraggly trees sits next to an elementary school in the Sabino Canyon area.

A small brown sign hangs on the fence. In white block letters, it reads "wildlife preserve."

Exactly what wildlife is being preserved in the swath of desert just south of Fruchthendler Elementary School, near North Sabino Canyon and East Cloud roads, isn't readily apparent.

(It's worth noting that a parent reported seeing a bear on the south side of the school in September of 2009. Still, a recent visit to the area just north of the Tanque Verde Wash ended with no bear sightings.)

The property itself is owned by the Metropolitan Domestic Water Improvement District, documents in the Pima County Assessor's Office show. Metro Water is mainly known for providing water to residents on the northwest side of Tucson, but it does have customers in the Foothills, said Assistant General Manager Warren Tenney.

The water company is exploring new well sites and is looking into putting one there, he said.

But it wasn't Metro Water who proclaimed the area a wildlife preserve, Tenney said.

When acquiring the property, Metro Water started working with the Tucson Unified School District to preserve some of the landscape.

Star archives show that TUSD's board agreed to sell Metro Water the 58,715-square-foot property at a meeting in August 2009.

Metro Water ordered an appraisal of the site and determined its value to be about $143,000. Money from the sale price was to be used for improvements at the school, and some of the land was to remain undisturbed to serve as a nature park for the students, the article says.

John Heidel, the school's principal, said that once Metro Water has finished drilling, the area will look more like an actual "wildlife preserve."

"They're going to put the desert growth back the way it was," Heidel said. "And we'll put in small trails."

The area will serve as an outdoor classroom for students to learn about the environment.

Contact reporter Dale Quinn at dquinn@azstarnet.com or 573-4197.