Flow Woe

TUSD's Hard-Nosed Stance Puts A Damper On The Arroyo Chico Flood Control Project.

IT DIDN'T TAKE 100-year floods for cute Arroyo Chico to fill. In fact, it didn't even take a heavy rain for the overflow to cause trouble in the neighborhoods along the Arroyo Chico. Herb Abrams' driveway, or at least big chunks of its asphalt, would be washed several blocks downstream.

In the Broadmoor Neighborhood, residents battled the high water and higher uncertainty of flood insurance.

But even decades of built-in mistrust could not keep the county and the city from getting together to build flood control devices to help the good Dr. Abrams and his neighbors. Ten years after study began, the county and city, with help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, built in 1996 the first Arroyo Chico flood control project using a part of the Randolph South (now Del Urich) golf course. That big hole in the driving range is the key reservoir.

Much of that success came from the collaborative work by then-Ward 6 Councilwoman Molly McKasson and her Democratic counterpart on the Board of Supervisors, Dan Eckstrom.

A beaming Abrams said the project would serve as a model for future cooperation between historically antagonistic governments.

And the engineers, planners and politicians looked downstream to finish the work.

But there, they ran into the Tucson Unified School District.

Heaven help all citizens when government plays real estate. Particularly when the government in the real-estate masquerade is a school district.

TUSD bureaucrats, the speculators in this wash tale, are holding onto an 18-acre parcel -- the Cherry Field -- to thwart the work. They say the property, along Kino Parkway and near the spot where the monument of Padre Eusebio Kino and his weary horse was placed in 1987, is worth $10 million.

That's $8.34 million more than the value given in an appraisal done for the county.

The county and city want to sink a flood control detention basin on Cherry Field to extend the Arroyo Chico flood control project that began with an $8.6 million component upstream at Del Urich.

Except for a portion, the field is within the floodplain, according to the Federal Emergency Management Administration. The remaining portion, in the case of a 100-year flood, becomes an island that is surrounded by floodplain and not readily accessible.

Arroyo Chico flooding, in the calculations that come in storms that would occur once every 100 years, also threatens other TUSD properties. Included in FEMA's Arroyo Chico floodplain are Davis Bilingual Learning Center, the grade school where admission is so coveted that it has become a status target for enterprising, creative and demanding parents, at 500 W. St. Mary's Road; nearly three acres of athletic fields behind the Miles Exploratory Learning Center, 1400 E. Broadway; and more than 11 acres that contain TUSD food services and some TUSD bureaucrat bunkers for engineering and facilities management at 2025 E. Winsett St., 530 S. Norris Ave. and 480 S. Campbell Ave.

Water would rise between one foot to two feet at those locations during a 100-year-flood, according to Pima County Flood Control District studies.

An appraisal done for the county in this start-stop project put the value of TUSD's Cherry Field at $1,657,000. The fields are an integral part of Tucson High School's athletic programs.

Upgraded replacement facilities, according to the appraisal, would be more than $3.1 million.

In exchange for the property, TUSD's upgrade would include the same number of athletic fields with southwest drainage plus two more grandstands, an additional batting cage and a maintenance building. Additionally, a dressing room would be expanded, a snack bar added, lighting and irrigation would be improved, security fencing would be added, parking expanded, and a ramada added.

The county also has offered upgrades to the archaic gym at Tucson High.

No good, says TUSD.

Latching onto an early cost-benefit analysis produced by the Corps of Engineers -- one that is immaterial for a real estate appraisal -- TUSD has put the value of the Cherry Field at $10 million.

To some it was a peculiar stance for a district that leases the site of its Roskruge Bilingual Middle School from the city for a dollar a year.

Meeting after meeting has yielded nothing from TUSD, whose bureaucrats have consistently whined about being left out of the loop when planning was underway four years ago.

A key player in TUSD's fight has been Guy Ferro, a former real-estate speculator who once developed congested commercial strips on corners such as that on the southwest corner of Fort Lowell Road and Campbell Avenue. Fate may have placed Ferro on the other side, but in 1989 he failed in his bid to be named Pima County director of planning and development.

On January 7 last year -- a day after TUSD Superintendent George Garcia was unmoved by facts and appeals by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry and other officials -- Ferro gave TUSD brass this oddly alarmist close to a self-serving memo: "We suspect," Ferro wrote, "that governing Board members may be approached individually regarding this issue."

Who knew?

Garcia went further. When Councilman Steve Leal, a Democrat who represents the southside, asked to address the TUSD Board in open session about Arroyo Chico, Garcia dissed him with a condescending note saying Leal was welcome to petition for a place on the Board's call to the audience.

Time is the one thing on the side of flood-control proponents. Garcia's reign is over June 30. And the three-person majority -- Mary Belle McCorkle, James Christ and Joel Ireland -- he so tightly controls must face voters in November.

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