By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor
A new year is only two days away, but 2018 laid the groundwork for some of the people and things that will likely be impacting Gilbert in 2019.
Here are 10 to watch.
The sports facility at Elliot District Park is expected to reopen Feb. 9 under the town’s management and its new name, Cactus Yards.
Formerly known as Big League Dreams Sports Park, the town invested $40 million into building the facility, which opened in 2008 and includes a soccer pavilion and scaled-down replicas of eight major pro baseball fields.
But Big League Dreams will be hanging over Gilbert like a New Year’s Day headache in 2019. The town and Big League Dreams are in litigation over Gilbert’s decision in 2017 to abruptly shut the park down for needed safety repairs.
Aimed Rigler is the newest member to join Town Council in January. A former Gilbert businesswoman, she is a communications director for the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, a lobbying group that promotes policies that allow the market to flourish, including lower taxes, fiscal restraint and limited government, and vigorously opposes policies that hinder private industry.
Is Rigler a carbon-copy of out-going fiscal conservative Victor Petersen, who is generally on the minority 5-2 Council votes with Councilman Jared Taylor? Time will tell.
Gilbert Public Safety Facility
Thanks to overwhelming support at the polls for a bond issue, the town is scheduled to begin construction in June on a joint complex to train its police officers and firefighters. The facility sits on 50 acres of town-owned land on the northeast corner of Power and Pecos roads.
The training facility includes multiple tactical, prop and classroom structures, shooting range and a driver-training track. Town voters last year voted to approve a $65.3 million bond to help pay for the estimated $84.6 million facility that is expected to take two years to build.
Park University, based in Missouri, last year opened a campus in Gilbert, moving into the $36-million, taxpayer-funded building left vacant for a year by St. Xavier University. St. Xavier broke a 15-year-lease with the town when it left the four-story, 87,000-square-foot building in January 2017.
It announced its closing nine months into occupying the building. Park University has a three-year lease with Gilbert for 10,411 square feet. Its lease payments won’t fully cover the debt the town owes on the building in the heart of Gilbert’s Heritage District, and it will be interesting to see if the town attracts any more tenants this year for the building.
Gilbert General Plan:
This year the town continues with its update of the General Plan, a blueprint of growth and development for Gilbert for the next 20-plus years. The plan will address a number of core elements such as land use, open space, recreation and development cost. Staff kicked off the process in July 2018.
Once adopted by Town Council, the General Plan update is likely to be put on the August 2020 ballot for final ratification by Gilbert voters. Gilbert’s current General Plan was last approved by voters in May 2011.
Gilbert Public Schools
The district last year began working on several school boundary changes expected to take effect the 2019-20 academic year in order to adequately house more than 30,000 students.
Proposals included moving Mesquite Elementary School’s boundaries west of Lindsay Road from Mesquite Junior High School to Greenfield Junior High School. The district governing board is expected to vote on the changes in January.
Families currently living in the school boundaries of a potential boundary change can still continue to attend the school they are presently zoned for instead of moving to the new school. But bus transportation for the “old” boundaries will be phased out after the 2019-20 school year.
Higley Unified School District Governing Board welcomes new member Jill Wilson, who takes office in January. Wison was appointed to the four-year position because there were only three candidates for three open seats last year.
The Office of the Maricopa County School Superintendent made the appointment, saving the district
more than $22,000 by not having to hold an election in November. The superintendent also appointed incumbents Greg Wojtovich to a new two-year term and Amy Kaylor to a new four-year term. Board Member Rick Thornock, who was appointed in 2017, opted not to run for the seat.
Gilbert staff got direction from Town Council last year to pursue the possibility of designating the Northwest Corridor employment center as a redevelopment area that would help it stay competitive.
A redevelopment area would give more flexibility to things such as building and zoning codes. Staff said the process would take a year at least to complete so something may come before council this year. If the designation is approved, it would be Gilbert’s second redevelopment area, behind the Heritage District, Gilbert’s downtown.
Desert Sky Park
Phase 1 of Gilbert’s 115-acre park is expected to be completed in September at a cost of $17 million. It will include two multi-use lighted fields, a lake, playground and restrooms. At build-out the park will offer a total of 16 fields. The park is a multi-use recreational area located on Power Road between Williams Field and Pecos roads.
Gilbert Regional Park
The town’s largest park to date at 272 acres is expected to complete the first phase in September. Located in south Gilbert near Queen Creek and Higley roads, Phase 1 will feature a splash pad, tennis courts, pickleball courts and playgrounds.
The park, estimated to cost $100 million, will be built in multiple stages over several years. Future amenities may include a lake, amphitheater, dog park, disc-golf course, skate and bike parks and sports fields.
The park is currently programmed in the Capital Improvement Program with funding coming from a number of sources, including potential sale of surplus town-owned parcels, Park System Development Fee funds and future bonds. Based on a variety of factors, these funds would be available to construct this park in phases over the next three to eight years, according to the town.