Clearer picture: Former Challenger building in Peoria moving toward art facility concept

Governing board members Beverly Pingerelli, Monica Ceja Martinez and David Sandoval at Peoria Unified School District’s governing board meeting, Jan. 24. At the meeting, board members unanimously approved that staff move forward with a plan to repurpose the former Arizona Challenger Space Center into an arts facility. [Philip Haldiman/Independent Newsmedia]

By Philip Haldiman
Independent Newsmedia

The picture of what will become of the former Arizona Challenger Space Center building adjacent to Sunrise Mountain High School, 21200 N. 83rd Ave., has become a bit clearer.

The governing board unanimously approved a plan to repurpose the building to be used as a district-wide arts facility and for the expansion of a community arts program.

Chief Operations Officer John Croteau said the  building would create community connections in the evenings, be an innovative space, allow for student achievement and allow for AP art offerings.

Through the process of deciding what the building would house, he said staff and stakeholders tried to figure out how to solve the most important problems in the district, including overcrowding schools in the north, one of which is Sunrise  Mountain.

Mr. Croteau said the building helps deal with this problem and is a good fit for an arts space.

“Since the bond did not pass, we need to think of the future. And this would free up some of those classrooms and give Sunrise Mountain some additional space,” Mr. Croteau said. “Also how can  we have something for the community to use too, rather than just create classroom spaces?”

The district will likely move four visual arts classrooms, which are bigger than normal classrooms, from Sunrise Mountain into the Challenger building.

Director of Art Education Robert Panzer said the rooms at the high school could be converted to create up to seven general education classrooms that could house up to 35 students per classroom, alleviating some of the overcrowding.

The facility could also be used for community education programing in the evenings with the possibility for a partnership with the city of Peoria and the community for rental space as a revenue generator.

Leading up to this decision the district held a community forum Jan. 9 in which 37 participants met at Sunrise Mountain High School and were provided background information, toured the former Challenger facility, and provided feedback for a repurposing committee that considered a number of uses for the building.

Using the building as an art facility rose to the top of the list with the Peoria Flex Academy a second option.

“We did cross paths with all different types of uses, and there were numerous things that were discussed, but those were the top two that came out of that group,” he said.

The 25,000 square foot building’s most significant feature is a 2,600 square foot rotunda that takes away from space that could be used for educational purposes. Only 13,000 square feet is usable for classrooms, Mr. Croteau said.

A proposed plan calls for the rotunda to be used as a flex space that could include small theater performances, community rentals, or a makerspace — a place where people with shared interests can gather, share ideas and create.

Other potential uses for the building include spaces for recording music or performances, arts education professional development, student art gallery and studio drawing.

“Large, open spaces are very easy to transform,” Mr. Panzer said. “That is one of  the advantages when you are talking about transforming an arts facility space.”

The building could be retrofitted in a year-and-a-half but officials would not speak about cost until architectural designs are completed, which would cost $35,000 to 40,000.

President Monica Ceja Martinez said the district’s special education students could benefit immensely from using an arts facility, which should be considered moving forward.

“By transitioning this building into an arts facility, we can not only open it up to potentially serving up to 900 students, but we can now make plans and coordinate extra classrooms at Sunrise Mountain to serve more students, so that will help alleviate some of the crowding up north,” she said.




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