Only one workable solution appears
to have emerged as officials narrow
their search for ways to repair the
dangerously antiquated heating and
air conditioning system at Corona
del Sol High School.
Since a widely reported meeting at
the school 10 days ago, district
officials have begun to focus more
closely on recommendations that
would place a $35-40 million Class B
bond proposal on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Such a measure would provide funding
not only to replace Corona’s ailing
system, say officials, but ensure
that enough money is left over to
accommodate needed maintenance at
other district schools.
At a public meeting held Feb. 26 at
Corona, Superintendent Steve
Adolph discussed a variety of
options that were being considered
now that a judge has upheld the
state’s ongoing refusal to provide
Although Tempe schools recently
joined both the Sierra Vista and
Williams unified districts in their
lawsuit against the state for
overdue funding, attorneys for the
districts say it could be five years
or more before that suit is settled.
Even then, noted the plaintiffs’
attorney, Spencer Smith, there is no
assurance the schools would prevail.
Instead of floating a bond measure
or awaiting the outcome of legal
action, district planners also have
considered placing a capital
override on the same November ballot
as the one that would be used for
With an override, however, funding
would be available only for the
Corona work, likely depleting the
district’s spending capacity for its
other high schools.
Clearly, observers predicted, such
an approach would be heavily
opposed, with minimal chance of
approval, because the beneficiary
would be only one school. Moreover,
a similar override was rejected by
voters four months ago.
While Corona’s needs have attracted
the most attention in recent months,
it isn’t the only school in need of
repairs. District Facilities Manager
Bob Anderson advised that
Desert Vista High School, for
example, needs $1.8 million to
replace a leaky roof.
Anderson, along with Diane Meulemans, the district’s chief
financial officer, noted that some
preliminary work at Corona already
has been completed, but not enough
to solve the problem.
“Mold remediation and abatement was
completed last year at a cost of
$84,000, of which the district’s
insurance company paid $25,000,”
The district also has spent or will
be spending approximately $6 million
to begin a four-phase replacement of
the school’s HVAC system.
involving replacement of the
chiller unit that produces cool air,
is already finished, according to
and III, covering replacement
of new supply loops for chilled
water and upgrades to the electrical
system, are currently under way.
Both Anderson and Meuleman
emphasize, however, that the
remaining $11 million cost of
critical Phase IV work, which
involves replacing the entire air
distribution system, including the
larger duct components and air
handlers compatible with the new
chiller and supply-loop
infrastructure, is the portion that
the state has refused to fund.
Left unresolved, therefore, is the
issue of elevated carbon-dioxide
levels in the air and the inability
of the 30-year-old system to
adequately circulate fresh air,
The cost of that Phase IV is so
high, say officials, because it
requires new ductwork and air
handlers, ceiling demolition and
reconfiguration of ceiling cavities.
In answer to critics who have
suggested that $17 million seems
excessive, officials point out that
the project was put out to bid in
accordance with the district’s
procurement code and Arizona Revised
McCarthy Building Companies Inc., of
St. Louis, Mo., was awarded the
As the problem continues to confront
district planners, worries mount.
Meulemans said her daughter will
begin her freshman year at Corona in
the fall and that she shares the
same concerns as other parents who
expect their child to breathe fresh,
clean air during the school day.
One teacher reportedly has asked
students to bring live plants into
the classroom to help absorb what
might be considered toxic materials
in the air.
Although local coverage has
concentrated on Corona’s air-quality
problems in recent months, it’s not
the only district that has
experienced maintenance problems.
McCarthy engineers recently
completed $16.7 million in
renovations to high schools in
Glendale and a new elementary school
As to what the future holds, the
outcome of a bond election in
November would determine whether
Corona will be able to make the
necessary replacements or be forced
to explore scheduling or other
alternatives to minimize the effects
of fouled air.
“Without funding, the district will
not be able to complete HVAC
upgrades at Corona del Sol High
Should voters decide a Class B Bond
is the best means to get the job
done, it would be Meueleman’s job to
write the enabling legal documents.
But no decision on how or if to use
the bond approach has yet been made,
and district officials are pondering
whether they can galvanize support
from voters who believe safe and
well-maintained public schools are
The November election is less than
eight months away, and the ballot
will be crowded, so a decision needs
to be made, committees formed and
the task of educating a predictably
reluctant public launched soon.