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Parents worried about future of Navajo Elementary after fire forces closure

Posted at 10:58 PM, Sep 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-12 07:37:54-04

Navajo Elementary School's shutdown is now raising concerns among parents.

The school closed in August after flames damaged three buildings, with others also damaged by smoke and even asbestos. Officials at Scottsdale Unified School District say students will continue using Oak Elementary as their temporary campus until the beginning of the 2019 school year, but after that, the future of Navajo is still up in the air.

The district's governing board will vote on what to do with the aging school. Navajo Elementary, built in the 1960's, is one of the oldest in the district. 

Amy Bolton, a district spokeswoman, says there are a number of options for the school:
- Rebuild from the ground up, using bond money they received in 2016 to repair and upgrade aging schools
- Repair the damage caused by the fire
- Consolidate students into another school 

School officials estimate the cost of repairs could reach $3.5 million, but say they are still working to itemize what needs to be repaired, and exact costs, with their insurance company. 

"There isn't a timeline unfortunately for something like that," Bolton says, but added that insurance would cover 100% of the repairs. If and when repairs begin, school officials say they could take 18 months to complete.

She says the conversation regarding consolidation started long before the August fire. "There are some studies that are going on right now that have to do with demographics and bond, and that information is due back in October," said Bolton. 

Bolton couldn't elaborate on those studies, but parents like Jeff DiDomenico say they have their fears on what consolidation will do to the school at the heart of their community. 

"Consolidation is just a word they use," DiDomeinco says. "It means taking the students and teachers and putting them into other schools, so essentially what they're saying is that they're closing that property." 

To rebuild, the school would allocate money from the bond used to upgrade schools like Pima Elementary and Hopi Elementary. DiDomenico expressed distaste for what the renovations did to those campuses. 

"They're huge grey cinder block buildings, he said. "An unneeded new building that can't live up to the charm and beauty that Navajo brings [to] this neighborhood."

Navajo Elementary has been a part of his family for generations. Jeff went as a child, and now has two kids of his own enrolled. He plans to send his youngest two when they're old enough to attend. 

"My children are Navajo, they're of Navajo descent, and it's an honor for them to go to Navajo," DiDomenico said. "We'd hate to see it go away."

DiDomeinco and Bolton both say parents gathered at the last governing board meeting on September 4th, and expressed concern for it's future, and supported restoring and reopening the school as soon as possible. 

"It was a passionate, respectful community all saying the same message, every single person who spoke said restoration, nobody wants to see consolidation/closing of the school and nobody wants to see the rebuild because we know what that is code for."

The decision could be made in October, if the board gets information on final cost estimates for repairs, and details from an outside consulting firm on the studies being done, and weigh that in consideration for what to do next. DiDomenico says parents will continue to fight for restoration, saying it should be the only option. 

"Let the insurance company do what insurance companies do best, and that's pay for the restoration of a damaged school, he said. "Just because you have a bank account full of money doesn't mean you need to spend it."

A cause for the August fire has not been released. A message seeking an update left with the Scottsdale Fire Department on the investigation was not returned as of publication time.