The Vail School District will be able to address its overcrowded schools, after voters narrowly approved a $61.3 million bond.
The district will use over half of the bond, $35 million, to open a new 2,000-student high school, according to a proposed budget posted on the district’s website. The remaining $26 million will go toward other infrastructure, transportation, health, safety and technology updates, according to Vail Superintendent Calvin Baker.
The bond, which passed by only 483 votes, will cost Vail homeowners approximately $6.20 every month for every $100,000 of a home’s assessed value, according to the district’s bond FAQ page.
Baker said the district will use the first $35 million generated by the bond to build the first phase of the new school, Mica Mountain High School, which will be designed to serve 1,000 students. The second phase would expand the campus to serve an additional 1,000 students when the need arises.
“It could be another four or 10 years before we build phase two,” district spokeswoman Darcy Mentone said. “If we have classes sitting empty, then that’s costing us operation costs that aren’t serving students.”
Vail has not projected how much phase two will cost, but hopes that when the time comes, the state School Facilities Board will fund the expansion — bonds are always a “last resort,” Mentone said.
The district needs to open the first phase of the high school as soon as possible, Baker said, for two reasons.
First, it needs to alleviate current overcrowding, which has forced the district to create makeshift classrooms in high school gyms and libraries.
The district also needs to prepare for the inevitable growth Vail will experience because of economic development brought by companies like Raytheon, Caterpillar and Amazon.
“We are grateful we can proceed with our plans to stay ahead of growth instead of having to overcrowd our existing schools even further,” he said. “We are grateful for the community’s support.”
The district plans to break ground on the project sometime this summer.
The bond will also allow Vail to open a new K-8 school, when the district deems it necessary, though it isn’t a top priority at the moment, Baker said. Vail projects the K-8 will cost around $10 million.
The district plans to use $2.54 million of bond funds to expand its preschool program, Vail Inclusive Preschool. The expansion will be built into the new high school campus.
The preschool currently operates at Cienega High School, but needs more space to accommodate an influx in enrollment.
“Our preschool special-education enrollment is increasing at roughly twice the rate of our general population,” Baker said, “So we’re desperately in need of new space.”
The district will also use initial bond funds, around $8 million, to purchase a new fleet of air-conditioned buses and to expand Andrada Polytechnic High School. The district won’t address the rest of the proposed bond projects — including repairing dangerous sport fields, expanding the district’s mechanic shop and purchasing student computers — until its top projects are squared away.
Tanque Verde bond proposal loses
While the Vail district is planning for the future, the Tanque Verde School District is picking up the pieces from its failed bond effort.
The district hoped to replace portable classrooms with permanent ones, update its aging bus fleet and repair “leaky, decaying roofs,” with a $15 million bond proposal, which failed by only 107 votes .
“We have a bunch of portable buildings that are beyond their lifespans (and) our buses are so old,” said Tanque Verde Superintendent Scott Hagerman. “So we’re going to have to work with our community to come up with some other (funding) ideas.”
Less immediately, the district needs to find money for improving campus safety and maintenance, Hagerman said. The school board is forming focus groups comprised of parents, teachers and staff to brainstorm how to fund projects the bond would have supported.
“We’re going to look at all of our options on what to do next,” Hagerman said.
Tanque Verde was the only other Tucson-area school district proposing a bond this election.
Hagerman said that though it’s upsetting the bond didn’t pass, he is thankful voters approved the district’s budget override continuation, which funds staff positions including art teachers, librarians, registered nurses and physical education teachers.
“We’re halfway there,” he said.