Possible plans to build Agua Fria Elementary School at a new site didn't meet with unanimous enthusiasm at a community meeting earlier this week.
At a Nov. 29 meeting at Nancy Rodriguez Community Center in Agua Fria Traditional Village, Santa Fe Public Schools unvieled prospective plans to build the school's new campus on Santa Fe County and Bureau of Land Management-owned land near the community center, off State Road 599. The latest idea for the school comes on the heels of numerous setbacks to previous construction plans for the school, often considered the district's most neglected, facilities-wise.
Originally, Agua Fria was going to be renovated, as it had been previously in recent years. Albuquerque architect Claudio Vigil got the contract to work on the school when he proposed to tear down the whole thing instead, turning it into a much more expensive project. But when construction contractors bid on it, their projected costs greatly exceeded Vigil's estimates, sending SFPS back to the drawing board.
The setbacks caused by Vigil's incorrect estimates also gave Agua Fria Traditional Village residents another chance to voice their concerns about the impact of the construction on the neighborhood and the loss of a historic building on the current school site.
But the crowd that attended Tuesday's meeting (along with the whole school board, minus Frank Montano, SFPS Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez and Agua Fria Principal Suzanne Jacquez Gorman) had very mixed reactions to the idea, raising points both for and against a new site.
In defense of moving the school to a new site, community members cited:
- Improved traffic conditions in Agua Fria, with 599 providing an easier commute for some parents
- A more central location for kids zoned to attend Agua Fria, more of whom live closer to the Nancy Rodriguez area
- The opportunity for kids to use the site's proximity to the river to learn about environmental stewardship
- A shorter construction time frame of 18 months (compared to two years at the existing site), and alleviation of disruption and safety issues caused by building at a functioning school
- More acreage to expand into
In defense of rebuilding the school at its present site instead, community members cited:
- Concerns about a landfill near the proposed new site, though SFPS hasn't yet provided detailed information about the landfill's dimensions, depth or contents
- Neighborhood pride in the old school site, and to the old buildings, as some people attending didn't seem to realize that the school will be completely rebuilt regardless of the site chosen
- Concerns about wasted money and effort if plans to rebuild at the current site are scrapped
In a slight to Vigil, who put in a rare appearance at the meeting, one audience member questioned the idea of a total rebuild, even though renovations have already been ruled out.
"We already put all that money into that school - we might as well get a different architect that can figure out how to make something work with that school," he said.
A man named Julian Torres who, like many in the audience, spoke in Spanish while another audience member provided a translation, said that as a construction worker himself, he felt ongoing construction at the present site would be too disruptive to kids at the school, including his own.
"It means a lot of disturbances at that site for two years and many distractions as students get moved from room to room," Torres said, in the translator's version. "They're not going to get the quality of education they could."
A woman named Claudia said she felt that if the school was rebuilt at the current site, that would mean "two years lost" in her childrens' education during the transition period.
Genesis Purce, whose properly is adjacent to the current school site, tells SFR he had misgivings about how the meeting proceeded, and the way some people spoke in favor of keeping the current site in order to preserve the historic adobe, when in reality the adobe would be demolished in that case (and possibly saved if the school is rebuilt elsewhere). Nevertheless, he's optimistic about the project outcome.
"If the community really engages in this process, it will work out best," Purce says.