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New Blackwater Community School completed for Gila River Indian Community, in Arizona

K-12 Schools

New Blackwater Community School completed for Gila River Indian Community, in Arizona

Electrical contractor Rosendin and Gilbane Building Company team up to deliver a multifaceted PreK-5 school southeast of Phoenix.

By ROSENDIN | November 14, 2021
The new Blackwater Community School replaces an outdated structure from 1933.
The new Blackwater Community School replaces an outdated structure from 1933. Photo: Courtesy Rosendin

Construction on the new Blackwater Community School, a two-story structure on the Gila River Indian Community, located southeast of Phoenix, Ariz., was completed on August 31. The school serves pre-school, the Family And Child Education Program (F.A.C.E.), and a 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.


New science classroom includes lab stations.
New science classroom includes lab stations. Photo: Courtesy Rosendin


The $25 million replacement campus incorporates culturally significant artwork throughout the two-story classroom building, media center, multipurpose 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 Yuma ancestry.

Blackwater Community School exterior.
Blackwater Community School serves children and families from the Akimel O’Otham and Pee Posh peoples. Photo: Courtesy Rosendin

“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 presences of tradition’s. This is the reason why traditional symbols of the culture are placed throughout the new campus.”


Exterior wall depicts crop harvesting, desert landscapes, and the petroglyphic symbol of the Man in the Maze, or Se:he.
Blackwater Community School exterior wall depicts crop harvesting, desert landscapes, and the petroglyphic symbol The Man in the Maze, or Se:he. Photo: Courtesy Rosendin


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, and petroglyphic symbols like the Man in the Maze, or Se:he. 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 ramadas.

“There is a blue and pink mural in one of the hallways depicting the desert at night," said Sharma, speaking to the Blackwater Community School Culture Committee’s interpretation of the artwork. "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 Maze.' There are murals like this all over campus that reflect our student’s culture enriching their overall learning experience,”


New classroom with plexiglass dividers to protect students and teachers from Covid virus.
New classroom with plexiglass dividers to protect students and teachers from Covid. Photo: Courtesy Rosendin

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.

“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."

The two-year 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," said Jeff Keck, Senior Project Executive, Gilbane Building Company. 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,”


Rosendin, headquartered in San Jose, Calif., is the largest employee-owned electrical contractor in the United States, employing over 7,000, with revenues of $2 billion. Established in 1919, Rosendin remains has built quality electrical and communications installations for morethan a century. More information at: www.rosendin.com 


Gilbane provides a full slate of construction and facilities-related services – from pre-construction planning and integrated consulting capabilities to comprehensive construction management, general contracting, design-build, and facility management services. Founded in 1870 and still a privately held, family-owned company, Gilbane has more than 45 office locations worldwide. More information at: www.gilbaneco.com.

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