State OKs $70M for QCUSD school projects

Here’s how funding approved by the state School Facilities Oversight Board will be allocated. (School Facilities Oversight Board)

The state agency that oversees funding for land and construction of new school buildings in Arizona has approved over $70 million to Queen Creek Unified School District for land purchases and new school buildings.

The allocation exceeded the district’s requests by 7%.

The School Facilities Oversight Board authorized $59.1-million dollars be allocated for new school buildings, expansions and additions, including the biggest ticket item – $27.8 million to build a new elementary school. Another $11.2 was approved to buy 11.4 acres for it.

“This is allowing our community to serve the growth in much needed classroom space and a new elementary on the north side of our district,” said school board member James Knox.

The 90,000-square-foot school, thought to be the largest elementary in Arizona, will be built “somewhere in the Eastmark area, not specifically certain yet,” he said, and will be accommodate 1,000 students.

The school currently is called “Elementary #10” until a formal name is approved by the school board.

Given the competition for land and the pace of development in Queen Creek and surrounding areas, Knox said securing the land is crucial.

“In Eastmark,” he said, “this is the last opportunity to do anything in that area.”

The board also allocated $10.1-million to the district for a combined 33,000 additional square feet at Gateway Polytechnic Academy, a K-6 school, and Schnepf Elementary, which together will accommodate an additional 365 students in all.

More than $21-million is targeted for 65,000 square feet of new space at the Eastmark and Crismon high school buildings. That space will be developed for junior high students who take classes in those buildings. The expansion will accommodate an additional 650 students.

The money will be distributed over two years and will be available to start construction and improvements July 1.

The board’s allocation is especially significant for Queen Creek Unified because voters have rejected bond measures in the last two years to fund additional facilities to accommodate soaring student enrollment. The most bond proposal had sought $198 million.

The process to apply for funds from the Facilities Board is complex. Board representatives had toured the district with school officials – a meeting that wound up helping its request be even stronger than it would have otherwise been.

“They advised how to better report on the application in some areas we may have overlooked in our application, not recognizing that we qualified due to the complexity of the board’s formula,” Knox said.

“It’s a great partnership between the board and our administration that helped us recognize and qualify for a 7% increase in what we were ultimately awarded, above what we asked for,” he added.

Racing to keep up with the growth, Queen Creek schools have already approved $5.5-million for portable classrooms while the new schools are built.

State officials say that given Queen Creek’s demonstrated lack of support for tax increases of any kind, the QCUSD Governing Board is facing a challenging task.

“I have experience building schools in a time of hyper-growth prior to the Great Recession. I thought it was difficult then but what Queen Creek is faced with this even more difficult,” said Scott Thompson, a Facilities Oversight Board member and Mesa Public Schools assistant superintendent.

“What they have accomplished with limited dollars has been amazing.”

Thompson added, “Great work has been done by both the SFOB and the Legislature to address existing building needs as well as new construction.

“Unfortunately, with the recent increase in inflation costs and supply chain issues, I fear our efforts are still falling short of providing schools with what they need. Hopefully, this issue will be taken into account in the upcoming legislative session.”

Queen Creek has other requests before the board to added 200,000 square feet of elementary and high school space for the 2025-26 and 2026-27 fiscal years.