TEMPE, AZ. – Construction on the new Blackwater Community School, a two-story structure on the Gila River Indian Community, located southeast of Phoenix, Arizona, was completed on August 31, 2021. The school serves pre-school, the Family and Child Education Program (F.A.C.E.) and K-5 Grade School. The two-year long build on the 7.43 acre campus was in conjunction with Rosendin, the nation’s largest employee-owned electrical contracting company, along with Gilbane Building Company and design partner Breckenridge Group.
The $25 million replacement campus incorporates culturally significant artwork throughout the two-story classroom building, media center, multi-purpose building and cafeteria. The Blackwater Community School Culture Committee provided the insight for the cultural art in partnership and with the approval of the Blackwater Community School Board. Rosendin’s team worked on lighting, playground areas, basketball courts, sports fields, and reading patios.
The Blackwater Community School serves two distinct tribes, the Akimel O’Otham who can trace their ancestry to the Hohokam and the Pee Posh, who come from the Yuma ancestry.
“The Blackwater Community School is the heart of the community and celebrates the Gila River Indian Community’s heritage throughout the year,” said Jagdish (Jack) Sharma, Principal of Blackwater Community School. “Agriculture is at the heart of the Akimel O’Otham culture. Our educators take pride in our quality educational practices and the presence of traditions. This is the reason why traditional symbols of the culture are placed throughout the new campus.”
The Hohokam made contributions to the earliest forms of technology in the Southwest with the introduction of agriculture, irrigation canals and extensive trade networks. Exterior and internal murals throughout the campus depict those contributions with scenes of crop harvesting, desert landscapes, petroglyphic symbols like the Man in the Maze or Se:he and more. A shade structure has been built with metal shaped to look like cactus ribs, a material the Akimel O’Otham would use to build communal gathering space Ramada’s.
“There is a blue and pink mural in one of the hallways depicting the desert at night. Blackwater’s name comes from the standing water getting dark with night. In the glow of the moon, fish would appear. In the moon, there are two flute players, a reference to “Man of the Moon.” There are murals like this all over campus that reflect our student’s culture enriching their overall learning experience,” said Sharma speaking to the Blackwater Community School Culture Committee’s interpretation of the artwork.
The school was originally built in 1939 and in 2018, received through other different funding sources, and Gila River Community Council, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), monies for a replacement school. Through the dedication and hard work of past and present board of trustee members and input from community members, the school was built through this collaborative effort.
“Rosendin is proud to have built the new elementary school in the Gila River Indian Community to give students the very best environment to learn and grow,” said Ben Miller, Rosendin Division Manager. “The school will serve as the hub of the larger community and support family education and culture in the local area. We thank our partners for coming together to bring this project to life.”
The two-year long campus build required an aggressive phasing schedule to implement construction while school was in session. Parts of the project were scheduled over winter and summer breaks to mitigate disruption to students.
“Blackwater Community School will serve as a pivotal gathering and educational spot for children and adults on the Gila River Indian Community. Gilbane is proud to work with Rosendin and other trade partners to have safely built a new campus to support this community’s families, cultures and traditions,” said Jeff Keck, Sr. Project Executive, of Gilbane Building Company.
Blackwater Community School administrators and tribal council continue to monitor COVID-19 trends in the Gila River Indian Community to keep students safe during an in-person learning experience.