Superior prepares historic school for new enterprises

David Sowders/Arizona Silver Belt In the halls of the former Superior High School

SUPERIOR - “Generations of Superiorites have a fondness for this building,” said Mayor Mila Besich during a walk through the town’s original high school. “It educated three generations of my family; my grandparents, my parents and myself.”

Now, a new life as the town’s Multi-Generational Center awaits historic Superior High School – and the restoration work has begun.

“The Town Council had some challenges in trying to make our Multi-Generational Center a reality,” Besich said as she stood in the school’s wood shop, which will host a welding training program. “We were going to rehab  our current Town Hall and build a small gymnasium to accommodate all these things the community had wanted, but the cost kept going up. It was outside our budget.”

A solution was reached in January 2022 when the town purchased the former high school from its owner, Elijah Cardon – giving the center a home with no need to construct new buildings. “We’re thankful Mr. Cardon was willing to sell it back to the people,” said Besich. “You couldn’t build this in today’s construction market; we estimate that this construction beam alone would be worth roughly $100,000 today.”

Besich also praised Cardon’s maintenance of the site. “He’s done a lot of significant improvements to the plumbing and electrical. He’s been a wonderful steward of this very important building, leaving it in good shape for the people of Superior.”

When complete, the Multi-Generational Center will incorporate Town Hall operations, the library and senior center, workout facilities, a dance/yoga studio and the Superior Enterprise Center, which will offer job training in welding and other skilled trades. The Enterprise Center will also offer space for entrepreneurs to develop (including a commercial kitchen).

Ladders, scaffolds and electrical wiring work could be seen in the future cardio and weight rooms, and students’ lockers have been moved out of the building. Some of the drop ceilings are being removed, to reveal now-hidden elements of the school’s historic design. “We’re going to rip out the drop ceiling [in the hallway of the future library building] and expose all the tongue and groove beams, to give it a really nice, dramatic architectural feature,” said Town Manager Todd Pryor.

“A lot of the repairs are going to be done in-house,” said Besich. “One of our success stories on all of our projects here is tapping into the talent pool of our Public Works Department. Not only does that reduce costs and keep things affordable, it also creates another source of pride within the community.”

The Enterprise Center, run by the nonprofit Rebuild Superior, will occupy one building. Its ground floor will contain the welding program, which Besich anticipated should be launched soon, and could also host training in electrical, plumbing and carpentry. Upstairs, where business classes were once taught, classes will be held for entrepreneurs, emerging entrepreneurs and current business owners. “The Enterprise Center is going to offer a variety of services to not only residents of Superior but the entire Copper Corridor,” said Besich. The town is also working with an entrepreneurial development program named SEED SPOT, providing Enterprise Center attendees an opportunity to take part in SEED SPOT’s two-day launch camps and other types of training. The development side is currently taking place, with an office in the current Town Hall; those interested in participating can contact Enterprise Center coordinator Arlynn Godinez to set up one-on-one consultations. Godinez also offers a monthly small business meet-up, with courses from such places as the Small Business Development Center. To learn more, visit https://www.superiorenterprisecenter.com/.

Besich said the Enterprise Center also looks forward to working with the Cobre Valley Institute of Technology (CVIT). “Right now, kids from Superior in CVIT have to go to Globe if they’re going to participate in welding.”

“We’re not competing with CVIT, but complementing them,” said Godinez. “We work together to provide programming that assists all of our residents.” She added that the Enterprise Center will provide “really targeted workforce development programming.”

With a few exceptions, Superior’s town government will be moving over to the Multi-Generational Center, with its impressive views of Picketpost Mountain and Apache Leap. “The internal town workings will all be in here; this is where the public will be met and greeted,” Besich said. Not making the move are the Police, Fire and Public Works  Departments, which will stay in their current locations. The former school library is likely to serve as Town Council chambers and a community meeting room.

The new town library will be double the size of Superior’s current facility. “We’re really excited about this particular aspect,” said Besich. “It’s going to give our library a lot more space, and allow us to have more children’s space.” The school’s original home economics room will host both the senior center kitchen and entrepreneur kitchen, and a space has been set aside for the senior center dining area. Another key piece of the property is the school gym, with its hardwood floor – a surface the town would have been unable to afford in its plans for a small gymnasium. Besich said the gym will create more opportunity for venues.

A smaller building in the school parking lot will be the center’s dance and yoga studio, and the town is likely to convert the old tennis courts into pickleball courts and outdoor venue space. An open space between two wings of the school, where a greenhouse once stood, is a potential spot for the local Hall of Fame Society. “Maybe this will become the Hall of Fame Patio, so we can have more venues. We’re always having events, classes and activities for our residents and visitors,” Besich said.

The tour of the school included a building  named after her grandfather, Nick Besich. “We don’t have a plan for this particular building just yet. We’re hoping it will be another big community space. It used to be the old band room when I was in school, so it has some opportunities to support the arts.” Then, looking southward toward Queen Creek and Superior’s Magma Club, she turned to some longer-term goals. “The whole interconnectivity to the campus is really important because just across the way is the original Miami-Superior highway (paralleling part of the creek, the highway is now part of the Legends of Superior Trails).” Besich envisioned a future bridge crossing from the Magma Club, a community social hall, to the Multi-Generational Center, as well as some walking trails.

Bringing Superior’s original high school back to life took “a conglomeration of funding,” including a low interest loan for the purchase – but it all started, Besich said, with Resolution Copper. “Our most important partnership is with Resolution. Without their initial $2 million commitment, we wouldn’t even have been able to start the grant writing process or the engineering process to get our architects on board.” The project also received $2 million in federal appropriations in March 2022. Those funds will help with ADA accessibility, including installation of a modern elevator. In addition, Superior received grant money from Arizona State Parks to add air conditioning to the gym, and has used part of a $600,000 EPA regional brownfields grant for environmental assessments. The brownfields grant, for which Gila County served as the lead agency, was shared regionally among local communities.

Besich summed up the center as a “huge, huge labor of love for the community and for the Town . . . What’s great about this is that we have lots of community support, not only from our nonprofits like Rebuild Superior but also from the community as a whole.”

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