City to get 7th elementary school; likely opening would be 2026-27

Santa Cruz Elementary School
Santa Cruz Elementary School is one of two schools projected to exceed student capacity, prompting the need for a new elementary school in town by 2026.

Growth in the city has created the need for a seventh elementary school, according to Maricopa Unified School District officials.

There are 3,880 students enrolled in the city’s six elementary schools this academic year. Continued rapid growth driven by future development is projected to raise that total by nearly 1,000 students in the next five years. That would put MUSD within 100 students of the 4,933-student capacity of its six existing elementary schools.

Two of them – Butterfield and Santa Cruz – are expected to be at capacity by the 2026-27 school year, even with a school-boundary realignment currently underway. When schools reach capacity, as determined by the state School Facilities Board, the board mandates a new school be built.

“Schools are funded by the State of Arizona using a detailed formula,” MUSD Chief Financial Officer Jacob Harmon said. “The state uses the capacity for schools based on square footage and they fund a new school when they determine we are over capacity. Once they determine we are over capacity, they give us some time to build because it takes two years once the school is funded to get it built.”

Harmon said he expects the Arizona Legislature to approve a new school for Maricopa in December 2023, and fund that school in July 2024. Given the two-year construction window, the school would be open for the 2026-27 school year.

The school district has two design models for its current elementary schools. Santa Rosa and Pima Butte are smaller, with 24 and 21 classrooms, respectively. Butterfield, Santa Cruz, Maricopa and Saddleback each have 43 classrooms. Harmon said he expects the district to follow the larger model for the new school.

That larger layout covers about 76,000 square feet, Harmon said. K-5 schools currently are funded at $288 per square foot, which would require state funding of about $22 million.

“That number may increase but we just don’t know at this point,” Harmon said. “The state has added an inflation factor so that could increase the amount per square foot.”

That cost figure covers building a school that meets the state’s minimum standards. Anything the district spends above that it must pay itself.

The district wants to ensure students have whatever they need to succeed. That would be taken into consideration if  MUSD decides to go over that amount, according to MUSD Superintendent Dr. Tracey Lopeman.

“Our students benefit from fully equipped classrooms and teaching stations, and dynamic next-generation flexible design that meets the diverse needs of our students,” Lopeman said.

The MUSD budget override passed by school-district voters in 2021 will not help with funding over the state minimum.

“Our MUSD override is a maintenance and operations override that does not pay for capital projects like classroom space or school buildings,” Lopeman said.

The new school would have a capacity of 950-1,050 students, Harmon said, adding that since MUSD has full-day kindergarten at all of its elementary schools that capacity would likely skew toward the larger number.

The district has options for location of the new school. School districts typically do not have to pay for land on which to build schools. Developers typically donate the land because having a school within their communities is a strong selling point and helps raise property values.

“We have a couple of parcels of land that have been donated to us,” Harmon said. “We’ll have those evaluated. Since we have those in hand, we won’t have to acquire any land for the schools. We have two that have already been donated and two where we have written agreements.”

One of the parcels is in Santa Rosa Springs, south of Walmart. There are two parcels in The Lakes at Rancho El Dorado: one near Global Water offices, the other near Placone Road and Powers Parkway.

Harmon said the city also has preliminary agreements for parcels on both sides of Bowlin Road – one in Rancho Mirage on the north, the other in Sorrento to the south.

Read more about the elementary school boundary study:, B