Builder with salary at the construction site

"Prices for building elementary schools in the East Valley have been rising over the last decade. CUSD paid $154 per square-foot for building Carlson Elementary in 2011. Three years later, the rate rose to $186 for building Auxier."

The cost of Chandler Unified’s newest elementary school will be about 35 percent higher than what the district paid five years earlier to construct its last school. 

The district Governing Board approved a $23-million contract last week to build a 93,000-square-foot campus in Gilbert will open next year. The project’s price tag is significantly higher than the $17-million contract CUSD approved to build Auxier Elementary in 2014.   

Associate Superintendent Frank Fletcher said upswings in the market are to blame for the higher construction costs. 

“We are seeing escalating prices throughout the state of Arizona, especially in Maricopa County right now,” he said. 

CUSD will pay about $1.34 million for the structural steel of its new school – about $578,000 more than what it paid for a school it built in 2011.

Construction costs in the Phoenix area have increased by about 5 percent over the last year, according to Rider Levett Bucknail, an international consulting firm. It’s a trend seen in most metropolitan areas as labor shortages and pricey materials continue to inflate construction costs. 

When the economy is booming, Fletcher said school districts often get the byproduct of more expensive projects.    

“It is what it is right now,” he added.

Prices for building elementary schools in the East Valley have been rising over the last decade. CUSD paid $154 per square-foot for building Carlson Elementary in 2011. Three years later, the rate rose to $186 for building Auxier. 

The district had expected to pay about $225 per square-foot for building the new school near Ocotillo Road and 148th Street. The contract ended up costing $247 per square-foot. 

CUSD awarded the contract to McCarthy Building, which has built out several projects throughout the district. 

McCarthy notably contributed to a political committee advocating for passage of Chandler Unified’s bond election last month. The company contributed $9,900 to the committee - pushing for voters to approve a $291-million bond to be used on various construction and maintenance projects in CUSD.

It is common practice in Arizona for contractors to bankroll campaigns supporting school bonds and overrides.   

McCarthy was one of four contractors to submit bids for building the new elementary school and was selected through a ranking process done by the district. 

Blueprints of the new school depict a campus with basketball courts, playgrounds, and a large landscape area. The district is not expecting any changes to the school’s design since it is on a strict timeline to get the project done by July. 

Weinberg Elementary, located off Val Vista Drive, will relocate to the new school site once it’s finished and Weinberg’s old campus will transform into an academy for gifted students. 

CUSD is also in the midst of building a new high school on the northeast corner of Gilbert and Brooks Farm roads, partly to serve Gilbert students.

The two new schools are expected to help CUSD accommodate the 3,000 extra students it’s projected to get over the next decade. Chandler Unified built Casteel High School only a few years ago, yet administrators claim another campus is already needed due to accelerated student growth.

CUSD has drafted designs for its new high school and will submit them to the city of Chandler for approval sometime this month. 

The high school’s design and location has already raised the alarm of nearby residents who fear the facility will generate a large amount of unwanted traffic. 

Residents of the Brooks Ranch neighborhood, located south of the school site, have advised the Governing Board their concerns of parents using Brooks Ranch roads as alternative drop-off sites. Administrators have tried appeasing these worries by communicating with the surrounding neighborhoods.  

“I know there is some distress and concern but we’ve committed to partnering with the communities,” said Superintendent Camille Casteel.

Fletcher said he expects the costs for building the high school will be comparable to the new elementary school.  

Boundaries determining which CUSD students will attend the high school are expected to be drawn in January.