Hopi parents renew calls for school construction stoppage over safety concerns

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

On the day students in Parkland, Florida returned to their classrooms, parents in the Scottsdale Unified School District renewed calls for a halt to construction on a school rebuild project they claim has design flaws that could make it vulnerable to an attack.

It’s the latest twist in a multi-pronged controversy over ethics and spending at the district.

Amid a lawsuit by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office over school construction, the district’s governing board announced it would halt two projects. But not the project at Hopi Elementary School, which sparked the controversy in the first place.

Construction crews have already started erecting the steel frame of a new classroom building on the site.

Three Hopi parents who are also architects say several design factors pose a safety risk, including the placement of buildings in relationship to alleys and streets, and limited access points in and out of classrooms.

“You have a whole lot of pinch points. You have a lot of bottlenecks,” said parent and architect Keith Zollman.

He pointed to one “bottleneck” in the clustered classroom design “where a dangerous person could have command of up to four classrooms with up to 30 kids [each]. So he's got 120 kids plus four teachers and maybe some aides too that he could do anything he wants with.”

Another parent, Kim Landry, said she mailed a letter to the Attorney General’s Office Monday calling for a stop to the project because of the placement of playgrounds and fields near Rubicon Avenue.

“Any psychopath does not even have to get through building security to cause serious harm; they only need to drive down Rubicon with an assault rifle during recess, easily able to take down far too many of our children,” said her husband John Landry, an architect, in the letter.

Zollman said he has been comparing the new school design with a safety checklist produced by the Department of Homeland Security and the decades-old existing design appears to score higher.

A spokeswoman for Scottsdale Unified School District said she was unable to respond to the concerns about design safety before press time Wednesday, but said she could provide more information the following day.

Arizona’s Family showed the Hopi designs to venue safety expert Steven Adelman.

“In this case, some of the issues I think are legitimate. Some I think, frankly, are just worries,” Adelman said.

He said from a safety standpoint, the plans weren’t perfect, but no school plans are.

“It's very difficult to find a plot of land where you are completely isolating the athletic fields, the school buildings and vehicular traffic,” he said.

Although construction is well underway, parents insist it's not too late to make changes.

“As you can see, Hopi is still here,” said Zollman, pointing to the mid-century modern buildings. “And so I have hope that it can remain. It can be modified and cleaned up and redesigned and the giant structure we have on the other side can still be repurposed and reutilized.”

Zollman suggested the steel structure intended for classrooms could be used for a gym, library and cafeteria instead.

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Derek StaahlDerek Staahl is an Emmy Award-winning reporter and fill-in anchor who loves covering stories that matter most to Arizona families.

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Derek Staahl

This once-uncompromising "California guy" got his first taste of Arizona in 2015 while covering spring training baseball for his former station. The trip spanned just three days, but Derek quickly decided Phoenix should be his next address. He joined CBS 5 and 3TV four months later, in August 2015. Before packing his bags for the Valley of the Sun, Derek spent nearly four years at XETV in San Diego, where he was promoted to Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter. Derek chaired the Saturday and Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts, which regularly earned the station's highest ratings for a news program each week. Derek’s investigative reporting efforts into the Mayor Bob Filner scandal in 2013 sparked a "governance crisis" for the city of San Diego and was profiled by the region’s top newspaper. Derek broke into the news business at WKOW-TV in Madison, WI. He wrote, shot, edited, and presented stories during the week, and produced newscasts on the weekends. By the end of his stint, he was promoted to part-time anchor on WKOW’s sister station, WMSN. Derek was born in Los Angeles and was named the “Undergraduate Broadcast Journalism Student of the Year” in his graduating class at USC. He also played quads in the school’s famous drumline. When not reporting the news, Derek enjoys playing drumset, sand volleyball, and baseball.

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