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City studies 2021-22 capital improvements
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SIERRA VISTA — In the first of a series of budget talks, the City Council on Tuesday discussed proposed capital improvements that are being requested for fiscal year 2021-22.

They include a handful of big-ticket items that would cost more than $1 million, such as the extension of Avenida Escuela behind Walmart, adding two miles to the city’s already existing system of multi-use paths and replacing 21 Crown Victoria patrol cars for the police department.

The municipality will have help paying for at least two of those projects, officials said at Tuesday’s work session.

At least one capital improvement request — $200,000 for the animal shelter expansion — elicited disagreement from one city councilwoman who said it was too much money to spend on the facility.

“I am completely opposed to spending $200,000 to expand the animal shelter,” said Council member Sarah Pacheco. “The county is thinking of building one, Huachuca City is thinking of building one. Is this a competition to see who finishes one first?”

Councilman Gregory L. Johnson disagreed with Pacheco, saying, “I think there is a need and we need to fulfill it.”

As for the proposed expansion of Avenida Escuela, Deputy City Manager Victoria Yarbrough explained that the thoroughfare, which runs north and south from East Foothills Drive to just behind the Walmart store, will be extended to connect with the Domingo Paiz Sports Complex on East Tacoma Drive.

Walmart, however, is required to pay for half of that, or about $1 million. This is based on the development agreement Walmart worked out with the city before it was built in 2015. Deputy City Manager Victoria Yarbrough said Walmart built the portion of Avenida Escuela that’s directly behind the business.

The extension being requested now includes building a bridge and a culvert. The latter is necessary because there is a wash that runs along the desert area behind the store just south of the sports complex.

“The city and Walmart will split the cost of the bridge and culvert, and then the city will construct the rest of the road north from the bridge to connect to the sports complex,” Yarbrough said Tuesday in an email. “We expect to begin design in the next fiscal year and possibly construction, as well.”

Another mammoth project will include adding two miles to Sierra Vista’s already vast multi-use path network that rings and weaves through the city. It’s not yet clear where the path will be continued, but the $2 million price tag for building it will be funded by a federal grant, said Community Development Director Matt McLachlan.

“The grant will pay 80 percent of that,” McLachlan said. “The city pays the rest.”

The city has a Multi-Use Path Plan, City Manager Charles Potucek told the panel.

Fixing the drainage situation on two adjacent parcels recently purchased by the city at Fry Boulevard and Fab Avenue in the West End is another capital improvement request. The land will be instrumental in the revamp of the West End, city officials have said. A small shopping center was recently razed on the land, but before the city can go any further with plans, the drainage issue must be improved. City officials have budgeted $30,000 to start.

Public Works Director Sharon Flissar said the city’s West End was mainly developed before the institution of stormwater controls in the city, and that includes the two connecting parcels at Fry and Fab. If there is a strong monsoon season this summer, runoff from the rain will flood the area, city officials said.

Yarbrough said the Fry Boulevard/Fab Avenue property drainage issue is included in a surface water master plan study that city officials budgeted for this year. The study is underway.

“The $30k is an estimate on just the possible drainage improvements after the study is finished,” Yarbrough said. “Once we know how much of the property is needed to address drainage issues, we can plan for the future use of the rest of the property.”

One of the carryover capital improvement requests from last year is a request to replace 21 Crown Victoria patrol cars for the Sierra Vista Police department. That is expected to cost about $1.5 million.

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New accommodation school district aims to help dropouts get high school diploma
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COCHISE COUNTY — A new accommodation school and district, which will give youth who’ve dropped out of high school another chance at earning a diploma, is getting set to launch soon thanks to efforts by Cochise County Superintendent Jacqui Clay and Outreach Coordinator Ben Reyna.

Clay said that if approved, the school will be categorized as its own district within the county with individuals age 16-21 who’ve been out of school for 30 days or more attending courses online with district curriculum partner Grad Solutions.

“They have to complete one class at a time, they get 30 days to complete that,” said Clay.

Reyna said the need to create an additional accommodation school spurred from recent data released from Expect More Arizona, which shows that 14% of youth age 16-24 in Cochise County are not enrolled in any school or employed. The goal is to have this decline to 7% or less.

“We’re hoping to fill the gap,” said Reyna. “(Students) needed an option that’s from and centered in Cochise County that knew what their specific challenges were.

“We want to provide an opportunity to build their own capacity and to move forward. And hopefully, that helps our schools.”

Clay said students will be able to receive face-to-face supplementary instruction once a week on Fridays in a dedicated learning center with lead teacher Alicia Buckhanan, who’s also the juvenile detention teacher.

The superintendent’s office relocated to Sierra Vista on March 30. The learning center will be located in the same plaza as the superintendent’s new office.

The learning center, located off 4001 E. Foothills Drive, will provide supplementary instruction along with Renya serving as principal and administrative assistant Cindy Morales as the substitute teacher.

“Everyone who is involved is certified by the (Arizona) Department of Education as teachers or administrators,” said Clay. “We’re keeping that high quality for education, it hasn’t gone down just because we’re online.

“The community is going to have to be supportive, since we don’t have a dedicated staff. They all have other jobs. As we receive funding, we’ll be able to hire a staff. ... We have laptops, four computers, we’ll have a smart board and projector. It’s going to be a state-of-the art space in there.”

Reyna said the space will be optimized to provide students with necessary support for learning.

“Everything in that space is intended to give students support, both structural and social-emotional support,” he said.

Clay said the learning center will be a certified testing location for students who want to get their GED. A grand opening is planned May or June.

Clay emphasized the accommodation school’s purpose is to help, not compete, with traditional districts that have students are at risk of dropping out.

“We are not competing with any school,” said Clay. “Our focus is 19- 22-year-olds. We are filling in the gap.”

Clay said if the school district enrolls their at-risk students in the accommodation school, the students are re-classified, helping the students’ status and the school’s overall grade.

“They let us know and we contact the student,” Clay said. “If they enroll that student, they get classified as a transfer student. It helps the schools, the community, we’re trying to give them post-secondary opportunities. If they can complete one class on time, the can attend our program and Cochise College at the same time.”

Clay said incarcerated juveniles are eligible to enroll in the accommodation school.

“We are not only serving our county as a school district, we’re going to be (serving) other students in the state. The students in the jail, their assignment is to give me 15 names (for the accommodation school) and to tell me why,” said Clay.

Clay mentioned some to the name suggestions.

“ ‘New Crossroads Academy,’ ‘New Start Academy,’ ‘The Academy of Hope,’ ‘The Academy of Prosperity,’ ‘Zenith Academy,’ ‘Saving Grace Academy.’ These kids, when I come and visit them, they are serious about their work,” said Clay.

Reyna said the district is awaiting approval from the Arizona Department of Education Finance Department before the school can open.

“ADE has been very supportive of our process,” said Reyna. “There was a lot of institutional learning in this process. They are looking at our application to set a funding avenue for us. Once we have that, essentially everything else will be put into place.”

Clay said it is hoped the new school and district will open for the fall 2021 semester.

“We’re now opening up opportunities for citizens who’ve lost hope in themselves,” said Clay. “Providing them motivation, direction and purpose as a Cochise County resident. ... Sometimes it takes an outside source to remind them that they’re amazing. We want them to live to their potential. ... We’re going to be our students biggest fans.”