Middle school sites still under evaluation

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo About 70 community residents attended a school board meeting Tuesday about sites for a third middle school.

Liliana Castillo

The Clovis Municipal Schools decided Tuesday they didn’t have enough information to choose a site for a third middle school after choosing a 40-acre property last month.

The four-hour special board meeting, drawing a crowd of about 70 people, was held in response to community outcry after the board chose a site at Pleasant Hill Highway and Humphrey Road owned by Clovis developer Sid Strebeck. The board was presented with a petition circulated by the political group the High Plains Patriots.

The meeting included a panel of experts, a review of the almost two-year history of the middle school planning process, time for public comment and an executive session.

Deputy Superintendent of Operations Joel Shirley informed the board of three additional sites that the district had not been aware of when three gifts of land had been evaluated by architects.

About 20 community residents spoke to the board, many stating that most of their questions were answered during the presentation and by experts. Several commended the board for holding the meeting and opening up the topic to further discussion with the public.

“I don’t agree with Site No. 1 (the site chosen in June). Developing the infrastructure is too costly,” High Plains Patriots Treasurer Tim Ashley said to the board. “Less than a year ago, the superintendent told us we were in a huge budget crisis, we weren’t hiring teachers. And now we’re talking about building a new school. It’s conflicting to me as a taxpayer.”

Others asked the board to consider putting the third middle school on the west side of the town.

“I’m a developer and west is the way to go,” Larry Cowen said. “I believe putting a school on Site No. 1 is a shot in the dark.”

Three principals described the overcrowding at their schools, explaining how in need they are of space. When the district builds the third middle school, the district is planning to move sixth graders up from elementary school to middle school, freeing up 40 classrooms in the 12 elementary schools. Zia Elementary Principal Jarilyn Butler said the school has been overcrowded since she took the helm six years ago.

Arts Academy at Bella Vista Principal Shelly Norris said the school has 13 portable classrooms and has little room to serve students from outside its zone like it should as a fine arts magnet school.

The La Casita Elementary principal said the school has been rezoned to reduce the student body but still has students in portables.

Some asked the board to take the middle school off the bond issue, which will be voted on Aug. 31 and will raise the money for the 20 percent match for the $30 million, 900-student middle school and renovate six elementary schools and Marshall Middle School if approved. The bond issue would not create a new tax or raise existing taxes, according to school officials.

The board emerged from executive session stating that they are committed to the bond election on Aug. 31, adding a third middle school and lowering the number of portables at the elementary school. The district has 70 portables currently.

“Next week we will decide where the middle school will go,” Board President Mark Lansford said.

The board will re-evaluate each of the seven sites now available after a more in-depth analysis, Lansford said.

“We want to see the total cost to develop the sites and not just the cost to the district but the cost to the city, county and state. And the usability of the sites also,” he said.

High Plains Patriots President Kim Runyan said she thought the meeting was productive.

“We’re glad the public was able to present their myriad of questions. It’s a good basis for the board to make a choice,” she said.

The group’s petition included more than 300 signatures.

“We want to know all the costs. We’re talking about roads, staffing, books, computers, insurance. We want to make sure that we can pay for it after the bond is over. Voters need to know ahead of time the residual costs,” she said.

Runyan said the group wants the board to take the middle school out of the bond issue.

Lansford said he is confident voters will be able to make an informed decision about the issue after the in-depth evaluation.

A handful of speakers asked if the board had considered other options for handling growth besides building a third middle school, including building a vocational and technical school at Clovis Community College or adding a building to Clovis High School in place of the 3.6-acre band practice field and moving freshman back to the high school and reopening the Freshman Academy as a middle school.

Lansford told the audience that options other than a middle school could be considered at another time.