Great Hearts Academies is the largest non-profit charter-school network in Arizona. The newest campus will open in 2018 in Maryvale.

Great Hearts Academies announced Wednesday that it will pull out of a controversial park proposal with Scottsdale in the DC Ranch community.

Instead, the charter-school network will purchase land adjacent to Scottsdale Preparatory Academy for a new K-5 school and a sports complex. 

Great Hearts had explored investing $4.5 million to develop athletic facilities on city-owned land off 91st Street and Trailside View. In return, residents would have had a usable park on what is currently vacant land. 

Great Hearts hoped to have priority rights to the park and its use, which spurred opposition earlier this year among residents concerned that the park wouldn’t truly be public and that the city was giving land to the charter network.

Controversy grew

Other residents, city leaders and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona objected to the city doing business with a charter school that, among other policies, prohibits transgender students from using bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. 

RELATED: Parents, alumni protest Great Hearts Academies’ transgender policy

The park proposal had not gone to the City Council, but elected officials Kathy Littlefield and Virginia Korte had pledged this summer to vote against the park if Great Hearts didn’t alter its bathroom policy. 

Mayor Jim Lane was more supportive, saying that voting against the park because of Great Hearts’ transgender policy would be discriminatory, because the public charter school hasn’t violated any city code or ordinance.  

Great Hearts Chief Innovation Officer and Senior Vice President of Advocacy Erik Twist told The Arizona Republic that the controversy surrounding the initial proposal at DC Ranch played no factor in the decision to move forward at another site.  

“We continue to work with community partners and organizations on listening to different perspectives on the best way to approach this and serve kids,” Twist said, when asked if Great Hearts has re-evaluated its policy pertaining to transgender students. 

New campus plans

Working with the community, DC Ranch and the city had “reinvigorated” the charter school’s search to find something that worked for all stake holders, Twist said. 

The 9.8-acre site at 16648 N. 94th St. presented itself in August and it was “enthusiastically pursued,” Twist said.

He described the land as ideal as it’s adjacent to its high school and will accommodate the new Archway Scottsdale, a K-5 school, and provide space for the high-school football and soccer fields. 

The mayor, in a written statement, applauded school and community leaders for, “working together to find such a terrific solution.”

Councilwoman Korte supported the new location as well, saying in a statement: “I also am grateful for Great Hearts looking at all the potential opportunities for their field facility in the city and finding the best way forward for the community as a whole.”

The new space would allow 500 additional seats in classrooms for students at full capacity, according to the Great Hearts announcement. The school will also see upgrades in the classrooms, library, art studios, music and drama rooms and a full-size gym, along with other amenities. 

Twist said Great Hearts went into escrow on Sept. 19 and plans to close on the deal Dec. 4. The new campus is scheduled to open for the 2018-19 school year, while a timeline for Scottsdale Prep’s athletic fields is still in the works, he said. 

Parents were notified of the new plan Wednesday, according to Twist.


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