New fence around outdoor learning program to help keep homeless out

Borton Primary will get a new fence after homeless population easily jumps over current one.

School fencing concerns

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - One thing that draws parents to Borton Primary Magnet school on Tucson’s south side, is the outdoor learning program.

It is referred to as B.E.L.L or the Borton Environmental Learning Laboratory. It’s a three acre area where students can learn about the desert ecosystem firsthand. It is the only school in the TUSD district with an area like it.

Students are able to take their learning beyond the classroom by planting vegetables and flowers, as well as harvesting creosote and turning it into lotion.

The students have sold the lotion in the past and put all the profits back into the school.

However, for the past two years, there’s been less learning and more clean up. That’s due to an increased homeless population in the area, who have decided to use B.E.L.L as a place to set up camp. The only thing that’s in their way is a 5-foot chain link fence. One that is easy to climb and use to get from B.E.L.L to inside campus.

“Clothing, shoes, food remnants, medication bottles containers.” Borton parent, Erika Carter is listing some of the many things they have found inside the fenced area.

Empty beer can found on campus (Source: KOLD News 13)
Empty beer can found on campus (Source: KOLD News 13)
Remnants of homeless camp (Source: KOLD News 13)
Remnants of homeless camp (Source: KOLD News 13)
Trash on local school grounds (Source: KOLD News 13)
Trash on local school grounds (Source: KOLD News 13)

It caught Carter’s attention early on since she lives just down the street.

"We’ve seen them jump the fence. And that’s when my husband will come out and say 'hey, you’re not supposed to be in here.'”

There are five shelters circling Borton, causing an increase in foot traffic. Some are loitering outside for days, others setting up camp inside the fenced area.

Belongings in shopping carts (Source: KOLD News 13)
Belongings in shopping carts (Source: KOLD News 13)
Makeshift shelter (Source: KOLD News 13)
Makeshift shelter (Source: KOLD News 13)

Principal Denice Contreras said it has led to more than just litter.

"We’ve had increased incidents of vandalism, windows broken, things stolen. Shade structures stolen, so it’s a big concern for the security of the kids.” said Contreras.

Carter said the parents want to make it clear they are empathetic and understand these shelters are helping the homeless, they just want to keep their students area clean.

With the support of other parents and Principal Contreras, Carter spoke with Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo before the governing board earlier this week.

The motion to build a 10-foot fence passed unanimously, leaving Carter and other parents to sigh with relief.

"We know they have so many other things on their plate that when it came to student safety that was at the top of their list.” Carter said.

Carter and other community members expressed their gratitude toward Dr. Trujillo and the TUSD board for taking action.

This new fence is going to match the other non-chain link 10-foot fence around the campus. It will allow teachers and students to get back outside and incorporate outdoor learning back into the curriculum.

Construction to start this summer and be ready by next fall.

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