Officials: Middle school will make space for incoming students

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo About 1,200 Clovis Municipal Schools students are housed in 70 portable classrooms district-wide. The district plans to move sixth graders from the elementary level to the middle level to help handle overcrowding.

Liliana Castillo

Clovis Municipal Schools officials are expecting almost 2,000 new students to jam already near capacity school buildings during the next four years. School leaders say most of those new students are the result of expansion at Cannon Air Force Base. And, they say, most of those will be elementary students.

To handle that growth, district leaders have decided the first step is to build a 900-student middle school. Sixth-graders would then be moved from the district’s 12 elementary schools and placed in the middle schools, Yucca and Marshall, and the proposed new school. That would free up 40 elementary classrooms to handle the immediate growth of younger students.

[image#2, align=left, size=abox] Also at the elementary schools, the district is currently using 70 portable buildings to accommodate 1,200 students. The Clovis district is home today to about 8,400 students from kindergarten through grade 12. They are taught in 17 schools, including Choices Alternative High School. Officials said CMS has not added a school building for a dozen years. The last school built was Los Ninos Early Intervention Center in 1998, and before that it was Mesa Elementary School in 1991.

“We need something even with no growth at Cannon,” said Deputy Superintendent of Operations Joel Shirley.

There is little doubt about the military’s projections of the number of new students Clovis can expect, he said, as the CAFB projections have held true so far. The base projected 450 new students for the 2008-09 school year and enrollment increased 440.

This school year, CMS has seen 165 new Cannon students, which also meets projections. Another 500 new students are project for the 2010-11 school year, Shirley said.

The district decided to build a third middle school rather than an elementary school or second high school after its Facilities Master Plan Committee concluded one middle school would keep the district ahead of the growth. The committee included 30 community members and school district employees. It met from October 2009 to May 2010 and explored several options for handling district growth. The committee recommended remaining with one high school as long as possible.

Options discussed included moving ninth graders up to Clovis High School and returning the Freshman Academy building into a middle school. Gattis Junior High School was changed into the Freshman Academy three years ago. The committee, however, discovered the 550 ninth graders don’t fit in any of the current buildings. State standards require more than 100,000 square feet to house that many students. The current high school site only has about 42,000 square feet available for a building, and it would knock out the current 3.7 acre band practice field.

Creating a career and technical center also was discussed. That idea could draw students off the high school campus and create growth space. However, it would not free up any elementary classrooms like the new middle school proposal does. Cannon Air Force Base officials have stated most of its families coming in will bring elementary age children with them.

“If we don’t build the middle school, we will have 6,000 elementary and middle school students in over-crowded facilities,” Shirley said.

Shirley said the elementary schools also are at 95 percent capacity. Several elementary schools are using portable classrooms to house students. The Arts Academy at Bella Vista, for example, is housing 230 of its 500 students in portables.

The Regional Growth Management Plan was developed in June 2009 in an effort to anticipate and plan for ways to handle the impact of Cannon’s growth at Cannon on the region, particularly in terms of housing, schools and health care.

Interim Superintendent G.C. Ross said he studied schools in Curry and Roosevelt counties for how they might accommodate growth. He presented the Regional Growth Management Council with the numbers and its final recommendation was for Clovis to build a third middle school.

The plan stated that Clovis public schools would receive 85 percent to 95 percent of the newly arriving students with the rest dispersing to Portales and other area schools.

The proposed new middle school would cost $30 million and would be funded by the New Mexico Public School Facilities Authority and the district. The PSFA share is 80 percent, or $24 million, and the district’s is 20 percent, or $6 million.