Jason Howley's brothers were part of the first class to attend FX Nava Elementary School when it opened on Siringo Road in the late 1960s. His daughter, who's currently a sixth-grader there, may be part of the last.
The president of the Nava Parent-Teacher-Student Association sings the school’s praises. The culture of Nava, he says, is “awesome.”
Kids who act out, he says, are treated with compassion instead of punitiveness. And Nava’s small student-teacher ratio, he believes, is part of what makes it so special for the kids who go there.
It's also partially why Santa Fe Public Schools wants it shuttered.
The district could decide as early as a May 29 public meeting whether to close Nava, whose enrollment SFPS says is declining mostly due to an aging population within its boundaries. The cost to renovate the school also exceeds 60 percent of the estimated costs to build a new facility, the standard measure that the New Mexico Public School Facilities Authority uses to determine whether schools should be renovated or outright replaced.
It's part of a broader plan the school board is pursuing in light of demographic changes that forecast ballooning enrollment at overcrowded Southside schools like Amy Biehl Community School and Piñon Elementary and declining student numbers at schools elsewhere, especially Nava, EJ Martinez Elementary and Chaparral Elementary.
At a board meeting Tuesday night, district representatives presented the findings of a study into possible closures and renovations of Nava, EJ Martinez and Chaparral, whose boundaries abut each others in the center of town.
Part of the study's mandate was also to determine which of the three schools could act as a potential new location for Turquoise Trail Charter School, whose current 74,819 square foot facility off Highway 14 the district wants to bring back under its control. The thinking is that the repurposed building could absorb some students living on the Southside and ease pressures on overcrowded schools in that area.
Other considerations for the district when it studied the three midtown schools were the degree of capital repairs they each need, and whether it would be worth investing millions in renovations when their populations appear to be on a long-term decline. The district says the cost of renovating the schools versus the replacement costs meets the standard for the latter.
Yet Gabe Romero, SFPS's executive director of facilities and capital planning, told the board on Tuesday that Chaparral's campus was large enough to make investments in renovation worthwhile.
With that in mind, Romero said, the district looked at whether EJ Martinez or Nava would make a better site for a newly located Turquoise Trail charter school, assuming that the charter school's leadership would willingly consent to the move. Romero said that Nava's small size made it a poor fit for relocating the charter school there, making EJ Martinez the more sensible choice.
"When it comes down to it, the size of Nava is [too limited] to offer to Turquoise Trail to be realistic," he said.
Superintendent Veronica Garcia acknowledged to the board that the district had yet to reach out to Turquoise Trail to solicit their input on the plan. The charter school's governing board president, Floyd Trujillo, has vowed to take SFPS to court if it decides to terminate the lease which currently allows the charter school to operate off Highway 14.
Board member Steve Carrillo speculated that taxpayers in Santa Fe would be unwilling to bond the estimated $48 million for repairs needed at all three midtown schools, especially with fewer students expected to fill their classrooms.
But Nava PTSA member Maya Del Margo believes the district hasn't taken into account a potential transformation of the former Santa Fe University of Art and Design campus into a living area with possibly hundreds of new living units.
At least two of the designs offered up by the five architectural teams pitching the city on the midtown campus' future include primary residences. One of them, the "Midtown Ecodistrict" design, forecasts upwards of 3,000 new units of housing for the area.
The city also sees the reimagined campus as a "catalyst" for its Midtown Local Innovation Corridor Overlay District, which aims to put more residential housing, businesses and pedestrian-friendly architecture in the center of town.
"I think our neighborhood is coming up," Del Margo tells SFR. "I think we're looking at lots of energy and excitement, and new things happening in our neighborhood. I see Nava as a part of that. But I do not have a time frame."
The vague timeline might be what makes this scenario a tough sell to the district, which is formulating a plan based on conditions as they currently exist. Superintendent Garcia says that even if new residents began pouring into the redesigned campus years from now, the three aging schools would still need millions in repair.
"Those factors, regardless of enrollment, [it] doesn't reduce the age [of the buildings], doesn't reduce the need for repairs, and I think that's the crux of the decision-making," Garcia tells SFR.
And while Del Margo says she is beginning to get the word out to Nava parents so they can give the district a piece of their mind about a potential closure by 2021, there appears to be less energy to resist the changes than there was last year.
A year ago, SFPS proposed closing both EJ Martinez and Nava together. Parents from the schools attended each other's meetings, and coordinated a pushback to the district's plan.
But this year, SFPS is considering different visions for the two schools—a total shut down for Nava, and a repurposing for EJ Martinez—and announced the plan closer to the end of school this year, when faculty and parent attention is on summer vacation and the next school year.
Megan Perkins, the president of the Parent-Teacher Association at EJ Martinez, says she still plans to mobilize parents and work with their counterparts at Nava to raise awareness before any major decisions are made. She agrees that the district's blindspot has been the future of the former SFUAD campus, and hopes SFPS will consider what she and others have to say about it.
"I don't think there will be last year's numbers [of parent resisters], and we don't have much time before the end of the year, but we'll try our hardest to get as many people to show that we still care and we want our opinions and voices heard," Perkins tells SFR.