2004 Bond Program
In a clear and unified voice, voters in 2004 charged Tucson Unified School District with the task of creating more vibrant, engaging and safer schools through a $235 million bond program.
In 2013, nine years later, Tucson Unified celebrated the successful implementation of the 2004 Bond Program that gave voters exactly what they asked for.
Before putting the vote to taxpayers, committees surveyed every school in the district and compiled a highly detailed list of projects and upgrades required for successful 21st-century learning.
From new, state-of-the art schools to cutting-edge science classrooms and fine arts facilities that inspire collaboration and creativity, the program impacted every student and school in southern Arizona's largest district. Bond dollars brought improvements in transportation, performing arts facilities, school safety, athletic facilities, science classrooms, technology, facility upgrades, environmental/green upgrades and also allowed for new construction.
"It's important to provide kids with the best facilities possible, and TUSD put their money in exactly the right place," said Lisa Preston, the mother of two sons at Catalina Magnet High School and a member of the Catalina Class of '93.
District-Wide ImprovementsOverseeing the projects was TUSD Bonds & Architecture Supervisor Marcus Jones. Many of the projects helped bring schools up to standard, at a time when the state budget failed to provide anticipated building-renewal funding, he said.
Many schools were in desperate need of new roofs, air conditioners and other renovations.
"The average age of our schools is 60 years," Jones said. "TUSD has been building schools for a long time -- before Arizona was a state."
Mendenhall, of the Bond Fiscal Oversight Committee, said the program kept construction companies in business and provided a boost to the local economy during the crash of 2008 and beyond.
"This bond money went farther because we got some very competitive bids on projects," Mendenhall said. "There were companies that were just trying to keep the doors open. We got tremendous bang for the buck."
TUSD's Yousef Awwad, Chief Financial Officer, said the money went farther than expected due to a drop in interest rates.
"We took advantage of these lower interest rates to help our community because the local taxpayer is paying for this at the end of the day," Awwad said. "We refinanced about $40 million in bond money at the end of 2010 and we saved taxpayers about $1.5 million in interest. Last year we refinanced another $51 million and we saved another $2 million in interest, totaling $3.5 million in savings."
Awwad said the $235 million was spent wisely. "A lot of good work was done and none of the funds were spent on anything other than what was voted on."
Taxpayer Rosie Gallegos, who lives next to the new Westside Transportation Center that was built with $5,219,900 in bond money, kept an eye on that project by attending all neighborhood meetings.
"It was a good use of taxpayer money," Gallegos said. "Anything that improves schools is a good use for our taxes."
Impact on the Classroom
Lena Blackmon, a junior at University High School, takes her studies very seriously.
She said the expanded and upgraded science classrooms at UHS – paid for with $344,739 in bond money – inspired her to do her best in Honors Biology and Advanced Placement Chemistry last year.
"It shows me that the administration and the adults honestly care about what we are learning," said Blackmon, 15.
TUSD Board President Adelita Grijalva said every project was proposed, planned and carried out with students in mind.
"So many schools had renovations that were desperately needed to keep up with demand," Grijalva said. "There were safety issues, and these funds were allocated by the district to bring our facilities up to high standards."
She said the district was "very equitable across the board in making sure all schools were touched" by the bond program.
"I think we did a really good job of spending this money wisely," she said.
Critical in the process was stringent financial oversight to ensure that money was spent wisely and to the precise instructions of the voters.
New Science Classrooms Inspire Students in STEMBlackmon knew it wasn't enough to study science out of a book.
Then a junior at University High School, Lena learned best through hands-on experiments conducted in top-notch science facilities that were upgraded through $344,739 in bond funding.
A new science wing with three classrooms was built and seven existing science classrooms were upgraded, allowing more access to lab space and hands-on learning. The facilities are used by students at UHS and Rincon High School, which share a campus.
"It gets confusing to read about experiments and chemical reactions and it helps to see it happen with your own two eyes, especially in Advanced Placement Chemistry," said Blackmon.
"I could see how magnesium and hydrochloric acid react to produce hydrogen gas and magnesium chloride," added Blackmon, who dreamed of becoming a sustainability engineer.
Blackmon, who was helping to inspire middle school girls to seek careers in science, technology, math and engineering -- or STEM -- said excellent facilities "prepare you for the real world. You are using what the professionals are using."
Amy C. Cislak, then assistant principal at UHS, said the upgrades allow outstanding teachers to teach to their potential.
"In order for us to maintain the best teachers we must provide them with the best facilities," Cislak said. "And when you have good facilities you show students you are taking them seriously."
The improvements were part of $3,849,265 in upgrades to science classrooms throughout Tucson Unified School District through the 2004 Bond Program. Among high schools, science classrooms were upgraded at Cholla, Pueblo, Rincon, Sabino, Sahuaro and Santa Rita, in addition to UHS/Rincon.
For the United States to be competitive in the global marketplace, students must be inspired to excel in STEM subjects, said the former Science Program Coordinator at Tucson Unified, Joan Gilbert.
"We were able to expand science classrooms in K-12 through the Bond Program," Gilbert said. "Great facilities allow the opportunity for more student-driven inquiry. We need to have space where kids work together in collaborative groups and have access to the tools they need."
The bond funding allowed some middle school science programs to move out of portables where it was difficult to do hands-on experiments. Funding also provided for safety and chemical storage upgrades.
"It's imperative that we create critical thinkers by engaging students in real-life science," Gilbert said.
Upgraded Performing Arts Facilities are "Awe-Inspiring"As a student percussionist and conductor, performance was important to Branden Adams.
The 2013 Catalina Magnet High School graduate was stunned by recent renovations to his school's fine arts performance center, paid for through the 2004 Bond Program.
"The biggest improvement was the stage itself," said Adams, who was band president and drum captain. "Being able to perform on that stage when it opened for the first time was amazing. It blew my mind completely."
The renovations were part of $13,682,486 in upgrades to fine arts facilities paid for through bond funding, including renovations at Sahuaro, Palo Verde, Cholla, Sabino and Pueblo high schools. Facilities were also upgraded at some middle schools.
Adams called the upgraded sound and lights at Catalina's auditorium "amazing."
"This is a professional environment now," Adams said. "It is awe inspiring."
His mom, Lisa Preston, who served as drum major at Catalina before graduating in 1993, said the upgraded auditorium, Little Theatre and band and music rooms -- with a price tag of $2,968,015 -- "send a message that fine arts are really important to TUSD."
"Students will benefit from these upgrades for years to come," Preston said.
The Catalina principal at the time, Rex Scott, said renovations maintained the historic character of the 826-seat auditorium.
"It looks just like it did in 1957, but the sound, lighting board, mixing board and stage are all state of the art," Scott said. "It's something we can all be proud of."
Community arts groups, including UApresents, Sonoran Winds and others are so impressed with the facilities that they use them for performances, said TUSD Director of Fine and Performing Arts Joan Ashcraft.
"They find our new facilities quite excellent," Ashcraft said.
She said students are motivated by better facilities.
"When kids get into high school they are very interested in continuing their work in the arts, whether they are performers or creators or want to be on the technical side," Ashcraft said. "We have state-of-the-art equipment that's being used nationally that our kids are learning on."
Ashcraft said integration of the arts in learning "keeps kids in school, helps them collaborate and become creative problem solvers and critical thinkers -- all that we want in our young people."
New Athletic Facilities Help Kids Stay ActiveTo battle obesity and improve the health of our children, Tucson Unified School District is, and has been, committed to providing exceptional physical education and athletic facilities.
The district invested $57,836,008 in bond funding -- one of the largest ticket items in the 2004 Bond Program -- to upgrade athletic and physical education facilities.
"When you are looking at educating the whole child, athletics play a significant role," said Herman House, Director of Interscholastics at TUSD at the time.
House said bond money was spent wisely in upgrading the facilities.
"The community would be very pleased if they toured the facilities," House said. "Research shows that students involved in extracurricular activities like athletics tend to do well in the classroom, and in our battle against obesity, it's healthy activity."
Among the highlights:
- Practice gyms allowing for more practice time for teams and a full array of physical education offerings were built at Tucson High Magnet, Cholla, Sabino, Sahuaro and Santa Rita high schools.
- Air conditioning replaced evaporative cooling in the Pueblo gym.
- Tennis courts were resurfaced at nine high schools.
- Asphalt walking tracks were built in community partnerships at several schools.
- Outdoor volleyball courts were added at some middle schools and existing courts were refurbished.
- Playground equipment was installed and refurbished.
- A soccer field was built at Doolen Middle School in partnership with Fort Lowell Soccer Club and the City of Tucson.
"Upgrading facilities tells students that we are committed to helping them grow into healthy, vibrant, productive adults," House said.
More than $16 million in athletic and physical education facility upgrades were made at the district's oldest high school, Tucson Magnet High.
Community groups were concerned with the condition of the school's athletic facilities, with safety issues and outdated features. Tucson Unified was committed to maintaining the historic integrity of Tucson High in the new construction.
Judy Jones, then-chair of the Tucson High Badger Foundation, was involved throughout the process.
"The new gym fits right in and the upgrades are benefiting students," Jones said. "It's outstanding. It's an incentive to the students and the teams have better morale with this great facility. We appreciate anything that benefits students and it makes graduates proud."
Dan McDonald, whose daughters are Tucson High graduates, served on the Bond Fiscal Oversight Committee. As an extension agent with Pima County Cooperative Extension, he is concerned about the health of our community.
He was impressed with the addition of a yoga room, spin classes and other offerings.
"Not every kid is interested in competitive sports," McDonald said. "Having alternatives available for kids is very important so they can be active, too."
New Construction Builds Positive Learning EnvironmentsDarien Wiebe loved going to school every day in a state-of-the-art school that feels nurturing and safe.
"I love how friendly it is and how secure," said the former 8th-grade student at Mary Belle McCorkle Academy of Excellence K-8, which was built with funding from the 2004 Bond Program. She attended McCorkle with her sister, Itza Wiebe.
"I can't believe we have a brand new, beautiful school," said their mom, Darien Aguilera. "I wish every child had an opportunity to be in a school like this."
McCorkle, which opened in 2011, was built with $17,128,759 in bond funding. The southwest side school was designed with input from parents, faculty and the community. It is a "green school" showplace with 955 students that incorporates cutting-edge technology.
Children armed with iPads collaborate on projects in common areas, comfortable in bean bag chairs and on couches.
"Collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication – all driven by common core standards – are at the heart of our school," said former Principal Elizabeth Redondo. "Our students are building those skills into everything they do."
She said McCorkle "is designed to prepare kids with the skills they need to be successful in life. The message to our students is that we as a community care enough about you to provide you with a new school with up-to-date technology to prepare you for a bright future."
McCorkle was part of $63,478,927 spent in new construction throughout TUSD. More than $37 million of that was spent on renovation and construction at existing schools, with classroom additions at 15 schools.
The upgrades brought new vitality to the schools.
Bond money allowed students at Mary Meredith K-12 School to move out of portables and into a new $ 6.2 million school in central Tucson that serves up to 96 students with severe emotional challenges.
In shades of clay and blue, Meredith features specialized classrooms, a grassy field, a playground, basketball court and a nearby community garden.
Kathy Clow had two grandchildren at Meredith. "I love this school," she said. "It is a beautiful campus and my grandchildren are comfortable here."
Former principal Terri Polan said the campus is welcoming. "The portables were on desert land and it had a dingy, grungy feeling about it," she said. "This facility lends itself to everyone who comes here feeling respected and welcomed in an educational setting. It has changed the climate and the culture. Students feel valued and it results in a more positive learning environment."
TUSD Goes "Green" Through Bond FundingTucson Unified School District took a major step in going "green" through the 2004 Bond Program.
The district spent $5,427,164 on environmentally focused upgrades, with more than $1.8 million of that paid for by rebates from Tucson Electric Power and grants from a variety of sources.
Twenty-four schools received retrofits to accommodate energy-efficient lighting at a cost of $4.3 million.
Six schools converted to reclaimed water for irrigation, at a cost of $1 million. Other renovation and new construction projects utilized green building elements, including highly efficient air conditioning and lighting equipment, water harvesting and solar energy.
The efforts translate into a reduction in electricity usage of about 1 million kilowatt hours per year, said TUSD Energy Projects Manager Tina Cook.
"There were a variety of projects that were done through the Bond Program to reduce electricity and water usage throughout the district," Cook said.
The improvements allow numerous schools to reduce energy usage by 1 to 3 percent and reduce water usage – critical in the desert – by as much as 2 percent. As utility rates climb, the modifications will add up to savings.
The upgrades are good for the budget, good for the environment, and "it's the right thing to do," Cook added.
Mary Belle McCorkle Academy of Excellence K-8, built with bond funding, is a model school in energy efficiency, minimizing water and electricity use and boosting recycling efforts. Students and staff recycle 40 percent of waste produced at the school.
"We wanted McCorkle to be an example for the students as to what kind of a school we can build and that we are doing the right thing for the environment," Cook said.
Students at McCorkle and other schools are learning about solar energy and ways to protect the planet.
"Spending money on energy and water efficiency is a good thing, especially when you can tie in an educational piece," Cook added.
Bond Funding Provides Facility UpgradesLeaky roofs, failing air conditioners, unsafe flooring – these are all facts of life in aging schools that can make for difficult conditions.
Tucson Unified School District spent $58,892,714 to upgrade school facilities through the 2004 Bond Program. Among the many projects:
- More than $27 million in interior upgrades
- New mechanical equipment totaling more than $6 million
- More than $5 million in sidewalks, driveways and ramps
- About $3.5 million in roofing
- Nearly $3 million in air conditioning controls
- Nearly $2.2 million in drainage projects, erosion repair and irrigation systems
- Nearly $1.2 million in library renovation and expansion
- Plumbing renovations of $1.1 million
- More than $300,000 to upgrade restrooms to Americans with Disabilities Act standards
Bond funding was critically important to these upgrades as Tucson Unified officials -- along with all Arizona public school officials -- expected to receive state money from the Students First Initiative Building Renewal Fund.
But the state has failed to provide the anticipated $12.5 million annual funding to Tucson Unified for the last few years, and the district relied on bond money for greatly needed renovations, said former TUSD Bonds & Architecture Supervisor Marcus Jones.
"We were able to do general renovations all through the district," Jones said.
Some of the projects were expansive. About $1 million was spent on a new roof at Soleng Tom Elementary, and numerous roofs were recoated to extend t'heir life.
There was weatherproofing and stucco repair, installation of new windows and screens, new cooling towers and chiller repairs and other projects that will make schools more energy efficient, saving taxpayer dollars in utilities.
Among the 90 TUSD schools, 89.6 percent received interior upgrades through bond funding.
"Many of these elements make sure our kids are safe," Jones said.
Bond Dollars Help Classrooms Go High TechImagine a classroom with no electricity, or one socket to power 30 computers.
Not much would get done.
A classroom with outdated technology infrastructure is equally as limiting to learning.
To provide students an opportunity to utilize the latest technology in the classroom, $8,363,842 was spent by Tucson Unified School District through the 2004 Bond Program to make vital technology infrastructure upgrades.
More than $7.5 million was spent in wireless telecom. An additional $403,276 was invested in network wireless infrastructure and $428,574 to upgrade data and telecommunications cabling.
"They are behind-the-scenes upgrades you can't see but they are critical in enabling the use of more technology," said former TUSD Chief Information Officer John Gay, who oversaw the project. "It's a huge win for the district."
Through bond funding, the district used the latest and greatest technology in new schools as well as additions and upgraded facilities. Bond money was also used to update cabling in older buildings as part of the district's Information Technology Infrastructure Modernization Project.
"Cabling is like any technology -- every now and then someone comes up with a better way to do it," Gay said. "The work that was done prior to 2004 used cabling that was state-of-the-art back in those days. But that cabling was extremely limited in the total band width or capacity of the cable."
Through the Bond Program, schools are now equipped with "the industry standard that allows you to move a lot more information through the pipe, so to speak, than you could with the earlier standard," Gay said.
"This technology upgrade is critical in the day-to-day functioning of students and teachers," he added.
New Transportation Hub a Centerpiece of Bond ImprovementsGetting students to and from school safely and efficiently is a major responsibility for Tucson Unified School District, and $9,749,143 in bond funding was spent on improving transportation in the district, precisely what voters asked for when the bond program was approved.
From new, energy-efficient buses to the Westside Transportation Center, Tucson Unified sees hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings annually as a result of the improvements.
As part of the 2004 Bond Program, the district spent $5,219,900 on the construction of the Westside Transportation Center, near West Valencia Road and South Camino de Oeste. Eighty buses assigned to the center will serve students on Tucson's west side.
TUSD Director of Transportation Paul Larson said the new facility will annually save the district 475,000 miles, 73,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 35,000 in staff hours, with a savings of about $700,000 each year.
All buses previously ran out of the East Side and Central Transportation Centers. Buses heading to the west side came from central Tucson, requiring extra fuel and crowding local streets.
The center was in the discussion and planning stages for years, but finding the right location was challenging, said TUSD Bonds & Architecture Supervisor Marcus Jones.
"We looked at more than 25 sites as possible locations," Jones said. The 10-acre site was developed in partnership with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, with TUSD leasing the land.
"It's the perfect site for this facility, and members of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe welcomed us in their community and became part of our design team," Jones said. "It's been a great relationship."
Added Larson, "They blessed the land at the groundbreaking ceremony, and have been great partners."
TUSD also spent $4,500,925 in bond funding on new buses, and with grants and other discounts, officials leveraged that into about $7 million in vehicles. New drainage and asphalt were installed in existing transportation facilities, and potholes were filled.
Rosie Gallegos welcomed the Westside Transportation Center to her neighborhood.
The 30-year neighborhood resident said the land had been a prime spot for trash dumping "and people with no business there at all hours of the night."
She said Tucson Unified ensured that the center blended in beautifully with the desert landscape.
"It is a very beneficial thing for the neighborhood," Gallegos said. "TUSD and the construction company have been great to work with. They kept us informed every step of the way and I am happy to see it here."
Bond Fiscal Oversight Committee (BFOC)To ensure that funds were spent in accordance with voters' wishes, a Bond Fiscal Oversight Committee was created, composed of volunteers who are not district employees. The citizen watchdog committee worked tirelessly to ensure that funds were properly spent.
"We have met the expectations of voters and stayed within budget," said Earl Mendenhall, a Tucson financial advisor who chairs the Bond Fiscal Oversight Committee.
"Out of the $235 million, we can account for every dollar," Mendenhall said. "We have proven the stewardship."
He said the bond was approved because taxpayers were told exactly what they would get for the money, and had confidence that money would be properly spent because of the oversight committee.
The committee met monthly during the implementation of the bond program to review projects and ensure funds were properly spent in 42 categories -- everything from new roofs and air conditioners to new schools, the creation of the Westside Transportation Center, and upgrades to athletic facilities throughout the district.
Setting the Bond Fiscal Oversight Committee on the right course was Tucson CPA Jimmy Lovelace, who chaired the committee for four years.
"The TUSD accounting department had to put up with me," Lovelace said. "I worked with them diligently, making sure every dollar was accounted for and in accordance with the bond program. I put in an iron-clad reporting system and I made sure we were not going to go over budget. With every project I had them ensure the paper trail right down to the penny."
Fiscal transparency was critical at all stages of the bond program. All meetings were open to the public and all financial records are available online and in district offices.
"There was a high level of fiscal responsibility," said Lovelace. "This is what the voters approved and we did what they asked us to do. We all rolled up our sleeves and collaborated and got it done."
Dan McDonald, an extension agent with Pima County Cooperative Extension, a program of the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has served on the committee since 2009.
"We wanted a game plan for how we would end on the dime," McDonald said. "We certainly didn't want to overspend and we didn't want to leave money unspent. The bond money was spent in accordance to the bond and what the voters wished."
He said the bond program "sent out a message that education is important to this community."
Over $75 million of the bond was spent to improve learning environments creating classrooms that meet 21-century teaching models.
"In order for us to maintain the best teachers we must provide them with the best facilities…and when you have good facilities you show students you are taking them seriously."
- Principal Amy Cislak, top-ranked University High School
"This is a professional environment now. It is awe inspiring."
- Branden Adams, 2013 graduate of Catalina, regarding the new performing arts center
"Collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication…are at the heart of our school. Our students are building those skills into everything they do."
- Former principal Elizabeth Redondo of the new, 21st-century McCorkle Academy