Gila River Indian Community Builds New School

By Scott Bourque
Published: Sunday, July 21, 2019 - 8:29pm
Updated: Monday, July 22, 2019 - 8:36am

Officials tour the new school.
Tami Heilemann/Department of the Interior
Bureau of Indian Affairs Assistant Secretary Tara Sweeney joins Governor Lewis and members of the Gila River Indian Community during a tour of the school while under construction.

The Bureau of Indian Education is responsible for schools on reservations across the country. Many of their schools are aging and in disrepair - some are more than 100 years old. There’s a significant backlog of renovation and replacement projects at the bureau, and the Gila River Indian Community couldn’t wait for a new school.

The community came up with an innovative way to get a new school. They financed and rebuilt the Gila Crossing Community School, and leased it back to the federal government.

“Our students deserve a quality education – so it was incumbent upon us to think creatively to bring new solutions to long-term problems,” tribal Gov. Stephen Lewis said. The Gila Crossing Community School is the first school to have been constructed under the program.

The community broke ground on the school in 2018; construction finished this month.

“Through this partnership we have created a learning environment that will ensure our students can thrive in a state-of-the-art facility and importantly, our Akimel and Pee-Posh traditions and values are apparent throughout the school,” Lewis said.

Congress approved funding in the fiscal 2019 budget for the Bureau to lease the school from the Gila River community.

“This is a great partnership between the Gila River Indian Community and the Department of Interior.” U.S. Sen. Martha McSally said. “I hope the federal government can learn from this great Arizona example and utilize this to meet tribal education needs across the United States.”

“Our goal was to work with the Department of the Interior to construct a new school where our children would be able to walk through the halls of a new, safe and clean school that they can be proud of as we provide them with an appropriate education to equip them for careers and higher education,” said Anthony Villareal Sr., a Gila River Community Councilman.

The first day of classes for the school’s 500 students will be Aug. 1.

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