Tue, Jan. 21

Keeping our promise to you

In November 2006, the voters in the Mingus Union High School District approved a $15 million bond to upgrade, renovate and repair Mingus Union High School. During the campaign for the bond, I was fortunate to chair the Political Action Committee that asked for voter approval. The committee members were, of course, both relieved and delighted with the outcome of the vote. Once the campaign was over, we thought that our work was complete. It was not.

The political campaign was based on School District needs that were brought to our attention during more than a year of public meetings and surveys that included administrators, teachers and interested members of the public. We distilled and identified 12 specific needs for Mingus and our campaign material reflected those needs.

Following the successful November vote, former superintendent Sharyl Allen, in an unprecedented decision, asked a number of the members of the Political Action Committee if they would volunteer to sit on a citizens bond Oversight Committee. Several agreed with her request. She charged the committee with the responsibility of tracking and reporting on the progress and utilization of the bond funds.

She made it clear that the committee would have no actual power and cautioned its members not to interfere with the day-to-day construction or school board decisions. "Its only function," said Allen "is to see that the promises made during the political campaign for the bond are carried out." She asked that the committee provide an occasional report to community on the progress being made on Mingus High School relative to the goals set out in the bond campaign. This is our first report in response to that mandate.

Members of the Oversight Committee were intimately involved in conducting reference checks on the selection of the General Contractor for the project, N.L. Booth & Sons, Inc. Based on their background work; they concluded the N.L. Booth & Sons was an excellent choice to work on the Mingus project. A recommendation was made for hiring N.L. Booth & Sons, Inc. to the School Board by Ms. Allen, and the board voted to hire the company. As phase 1 of the three-phased project is closing out, the Oversight Committee believes that its initial impression of N.L. Booth & Sons, Inc., was correct - it is doing a super job. The company's work is of high quality, being completed nearly on time, and coming in under budget. We are informed that N.L. Booth & Sons has spent about two-thirds of the construction dollars for phase 1 on employing Northern Arizona subcontractors and laborers.

Members of the Oversight Committee were also involved in the initial recommendation that a project manager be retained to oversee the construction. The School Board, on recommendation of Ms. Allen agreed to establish such a position. Mr. Steve Blankenship was hired for the task and once again, the Committee feels that he was an exceptional choice. He has worked cooperatively with the General Contractor and has kept the District School Board and the Oversight Committee fully informed of the progress being made on the project.

The renovation project is divided into three phases. Originally scheduled to be completed by mid-August, Phase I is now expected to be completed before the end of September. The project is running about $118,000 under budget. Phases II and III will encompass the next two years.

Now, what about some of those specific promises made during the campaign? Safety of the Mingus community was our number one priority and many of the safety concerns have been met during the first phase of construction. For example, the fire sprinkler system has been completely updated. The fire alarm has been brought up to meet all of the new Code requirements and APS has installed a completely new electrical service. In July the old electrical panels were pulled out and the new service installed. APS installed a new transfer during an upgrade from 2,000-amp service to 2,500-amp service. The internal electrical work, from the service feeder throughout the building is scheduled to follow.

Technology and compliance with federal ADA requirements were also high on our list of priorities. The infrastructure continues to be upgraded to meet the needs of 21st century technology, while washrooms that fail to comply with federal mandates are being remodeled.

The boys and girls locker rooms have been completely renovated, and the weight room improved to meet code requirements. Two large bathrooms near the cafeteria were remodeled in accordance with federal requirements. Others will be renovated during phases II and III. The project appears well on its way to achieving the goal of meeting ADA requirements by the time it is completed.

The age of the HVAC system was also of concern to the Political Action Committee and a promise to renovate the current system was made, should the bond be approved. I can report that all of the evaporative coolers were replaced during phase I with a new air conditioning system. Additional cooling equipment will be installed during phases II and III.

Another campaign promise involved the gymnasium. Phase I has included the complete renovation of the large gymnasium, including refinishing the floor and putting in new bleachers. The small gymnasium has undergone considerable renovation, including all new finishes. I believe you will agree with me once you see the new facilities that they are terrific.

The entire project has received some splendid support from the community, professional organizations and businesses. For example, the refinishing or replacing the gymnasium floor at the High School was budgeted for phase I. However, the Phoenix Suns and APS cooperatively donated $23,199 to complete this project. The City of Cottonwood graciously agreed to waive all building and related fees for the project - a savings in excess of $30,000.

From the perspective of the Bond Oversight Committee, the District has utilized the bond funding well and in accord with the promises made during the campaign. Much more needs to be done and the Oversight Committee will continue its vigilance and will again submit a report to the community when Phase II is completed.

Ann Cumpston is a former president of the Mingus Union School Board and currently serves as chair of the school district's Bond Oversight Committee.

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