The recent completion of a new school in Laveen, Arizona, designed to serve more than five hundred K-8 students on the Gila River Indian Reservation, is being seen as a precursor to future new schools run by the federal Bureau of Indian Education.
The Gila Crossing Community School, located at 4665 W. Pecos Road, is actually made up of a series of interlocking structures housing classrooms, a library, gymnasium, offices, and dining space.
Construction of the school is part of a larger effort to replace outdated BIE facilities across the country. According to reports, many of those schools, which were built in the late 19th century, suffer from asbestos contamination, and both electrical and plumbing system issues.
Currently the BIE has up and running more than 180 elementary and secondary schools located on 63 reservations nationally. The total enrollment today at those facilities is in excess of 47,000 students.
In testimony before the Senate’s Committee on Indian Affairs last year, Tony Dearman, BIE director, noted the aged condition of many of the BIE schools, and said the agency was doing what it could with $129 million in infrastructure funding to “address the current backlog in school construction and maintenance.”
Dearman additionally estimated that it would probably cost nearly $300 million to replace all of the BIE schools that are not up to current standards.
The BIE is asking for a 2020 fiscal year budget of $32.3 million that will allow it to build some of those new facilities, as well as maintain existing older schools.
The BIE has additionally determined that there are currently a minimum of sixty schools that need to be replaced due to their age and condition.
By Garry Boulard
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