Board taking another look at middle school sites

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo The Clovis Municipal Schools own 40 acres along East 21st Street just west of 7-18 Road which has access to utilities. CMS administrations says the site is too close to Yucca Middle School to build a middle school on it.

Liliana Castillo

The Clovis school board will meet in a special public session Tuesday to reconsider sites for a new $30 million middle school.

Board members say the special meeting is necessary because of public reaction to its June 8 decision: Choosing a 40-acre plot owned by Clovis developer Sid Strebeck from three offers of free land for the school.

The board vote was 3-1 with Board President Mark Lansford the lone dissenter. Board member Lola Bryant was absent.

The vote prompted a campaign by the political group High Plains Patriots, who say they’ve collected more than 300 signatures demanding the board redress their choice.

Among the Patriots’ allegations: The board’s decision served private interests instead of the public and the site would lead the district to be fiscally irresponsible because the site chosen needs infrastructure development.

School officials acknowledge it will cost $1.5 million to extend utilities two miles to the site, which is outside city limits.

Deputy Superintendent of Operations Joel Shirley pointed out that Mesa and Zia elementaries and the high school were all outside city limits when originally built.

Lansford said the meeting is intended to help answer questions the board and community may have about the site and therefore will be different from a regular board meeting.

In a regular meeting, the board doesn’t respond to public comment. Lansford is hoping citizens will get answers during this meeting.

“In my opinion, the board needs to give management a definitive direction to go in this matter,” he said. “The board needs to move on this matter in some way.”

Lansford said the board could choose to support their earlier decision, choose another site or table the item.

“We are not married to a site,” Interim Superintendent G.C. Ross said. “But we are committed to the need for a middle school.”

Ross said the existing middle schools are at 85 percent occupancy and 10 of the 12 elementary schools are at 100 percent occupancy. Additionally, the district is expecting 2,000 additional students by the 2012-2013 school year from expansion at Cannon.

The meeting includes a panel of experts and a review of the almost two-year history of the middle school planning process, which began in September 2008.

The board also plans a question-and-answer session with the panel. It will be followed by a public input section before the board meets in executive session. Following the executive session, the board will once again consider a middle school site.

“It’s important to have as many viewpoints represented as possible on this matter because I think the board needs as much information as it can garner to make a reasonable, rational decision,” said Lansford.

High Plains Patriots President Kim Runyan said there are concerns about the cost of building the school on the chosen site and what it will mean to taxpayers and property owners.

Runyan also said the people need proof the district needs a new school.

“We need to know that the enrollment numbers are there to justify building a new school,” she said.

Runyan said she believes the high school is able to house up to 700 more students.

“I don’t think they (the board) were presented with a lot of facts. They got excited about a piece of land and decided to build a school. That’s the impression that I’ve gotten,” Runyan said. “I think the bond will be in danger of not passing if they don’t get some hard facts to people that are paying for it.”

The district has scheduled a special bond election Aug. 31. If voters approve it, this would raise the money to pay for several renovation projects as well as 20 percent of the cost of the new middle school.

The bond issue would not create a new tax or raise existing taxes, according to the board.

The remainder of money needed to build the middle school will come from an 80 percent state match from the Public School Capital Outlay Council.

With the match, the proposed $30 million, 900-student middle school would cost Clovis schools $6 million.

“That is the same cost to provide portables for the same number of kids,” said Shirley.

The district decided to build a new middle school after a Facility Master Planning Committee evaluated needs while updating the district’s overall master plan in late 2008. The decision was approved by the state and the Clovis school board.

Because of general growth and expansion of Cannon Air Force Base, the district decided building a third middle school and moving sixth graders from elementary school to middle school would create space across the district.

“Moving sixth grade up would free up 40 classrooms,” Shirley said. “It just makes sense.”

The study also identified the possible need for a new elementary school in 2016. A 40-acre piece of land would allow the district to build a middle school and an elementary school.

According to state recommendations:

• Middle schools require 20 acres plus one acre per 100 students. The proposed school would require 29 acres.

• Elementary schools require 10 acres minimum.

• High schools require 80 acres minimum.

Ross and Shirley said another driving factor behind a third middle school is the state agreed to help fund 80 percent of the building.

Ross said because Clovis High School is on 37 acres — 43 acres short of the state’s recommendation — any expansion at high school would have to be 100 percent funded by the district and taxpayers.

Also, Shirley said a middle school would keep the district ahead of growth. CAFB has projected its expanding staff will come with elementary age children. Because sixth graders will be moved up, room will be made in each of the 12 elementary schools in the district, according to Shirley.

“If you look at a site selection based on today instead of five or 10 years out, you’re not showing any vision,” Shirley said.

Critics have said if the reason is base growth, the district should build a middle school on a site closer to the base. The other two donations of land offered were a 30-acre site at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Llano Estacado and a 30-acre site at North Prince and Wilhite streets.

“The need for a middle school on the west side of town is legitimate,” Ross said. “The site (King-Llano) is attractive. But it is two miles away from the sewer line. It’s two miles either way.”

Shirley said the King-Llano site would require an extended sewer line and a lift station to handle waste water created by the school.

Lansford said because of criticisms over the original site selection, the district will now be looking at other sites. These include:

• Land west of Barry Elementary.

• Land northwest of Barry Elementary.

• Property the school owns south of 21st Street near Clovis Christian School.

• A 30-acre property northwest of Llano Estacado Boulevard and Martin Luther King Boulevard.

• A 30-acre property northeast of Wilhite Road and Prince Street.

Shirley said many of the new sites are for sale, not donation, and the district can only pay appraisal price for land.