Education Secondary

School district discovers that state perks provided to Sumitomo don't apply for a school site

In October 1996, the land department and the school district settled on a parcel for the new high school: where 36th Street and Deer Valley Road would meet if they were extended.

Then, Brown says, the district waited for the land department to complete appraisals of the land's worth. The appraisals took nearly a year.

Between the back-and-forth over which site to choose and the yearlong wait for appraisals, the school district has had to change its schedule. It now hopes to open the school in the year 2000.

That's a change from the treatment that Sumitomo received. The land department was more than willing to help out the company and its hurry to build the plant. Appraisals on Sumitomo's land were produced in less then a month. But Sumitomo didn't like the $63,000-per-acre price tag. Then-governor Fife Symington, however, assured Sumitomo officials that the appraisals were "flawed" and that a new set was being prepared.

The new appraisals were completed in three days and lowered the price of the land to $37,000 per acre.

"I wish you hadn't told me that," Brown says.
The land department had more in store for the district than plodding, bureaucratic inertia. It put a remarkable requirement on the high school land sale: Even though the district needs only 54 acres for its school, the state insists that it purchase 70 acres. The extra land includes a wash, which the state wants the district to improve with $700,000 in drainage improvements.

Brown believes the land department's requirement is heavy-handed. Worse, the district learned that the federal Clean Water Act required that the Army Corps of Engineers approve the improvement of the wash, which the corps wouldn't do.

The corps told the school district that building a drainage facility on the wash would actually cause more harm to the desert than trying to protect the school from an unlikely flood.

The land department, admitting in a letter that it had put the school in a Catch-22 situation, came up with another plan: It asked the district to pay for half of the wash improvement up front, then put the rest in escrow until the corps could be convinced that the facility should be built.

"We can't do that," Brown says, explaining that it's a perfect example of the land department treating the school district as if it were a private developer rather than a public agency.

"They want us to put the money in escrow. You do that with people you expect to leave town. We're a school district. We're not going anywhere."

Brown now is waiting for the land department to make a decision about the wash. But time is slipping away, putting even the year 2000 completion date in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, he tallies up the money taxpayers will pay for the school's land: The district will pay nearly $3 million for the 70-acre parcel, but it will only use 54 acres of the property. That's a per-acre price of $51,000.

But the district will have to pay much more to make the land usable. For a required right-of-way: $189,000. Extending three streets: $1.3 million. Extending a water main: $492,000. Building the drainage facility: $705,000. Bringing in electricity: $500,000.

Total infrastructure costs to the district: $3 million.
The school district will pay a total of $6 million for the high school site and its infrastructure--a per-acre price of $113,920.

Two miles away, Sumitomo's lease was based on an appraised value of $37,000 per acre.

Total infrastructure costs (estimated at $10 million) for the plant that Sumitomo will pay: zero.

"Those guys [Sumitomo] make money. We don't. The things that concern the district, we understand we have to pay for the land. But we feel we should be treated as an infrastructure agent rather than as a developer. I think this is just bureaucracy at its worst," Brown says.

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