SFPS Board: Rebuild EJ Martinez

Students will relocate to Chaparral in the interim

Nearly six months after Santa Fe Public Schools’ Community Review Committee received a dire report concerning the roofing system and overall maintenance of EJ Martinez Elementary School, the SFPS Board of Education has begun working toward a solution for the 65-year-old school by directing the CRC during its March 14 school board meeting toward a plan to demolish and then rebuild the school.

The building’s roof is its primary issue: Photos in the September presentation show bubbling that SFPS Executive Director of Operations Gabe Romero says indicates the coating and roofing material no longer adhere to the roof insulation. Romero says that issue, combined with several leaks, means workers would need to remove the roof and insulation “down to the deck” to properly repair it. Additionally, the HVAC system, rooftop ducting and electrical conduits are due for replacement.

Currently, nearly 40% of the school is closed off due to the roof damage. At the meeting, SFPS Deputy Superintendent Kristy Wagner said the building needs to be vacated by June because of the roof’s deterioration.

“It looks really sweet, amazing things are happening, but its bones are really, really tired,” Wagner said of the school. “It really just needs a full overhaul, and so it’s not a simple thing to do. We can’t just take off the roof materials and leave people in the building safely.”

The current and future conditions of the facility throughout the construction process means the school will be closed, starting in the 2024-2025 school year until renovations are complete, and all programming for EJ Martinez will temporarily relocate to Chaparral Elementary, a school near Ragle Park about 2.5 miles away from EJ Martinez.

“The two schools will operate at Chaparral Elementary as independent schools, which will not impact programming at either school for the 2024-2025 school year,” Chaparral Elementary Principal Erica Martinez-Maestas announced in a post on the school’s Facebook page. “Both schools have been notified of this recommendation and have been very helpful and cooperative in helping us begin the planning process for the temporary transfer.”

Considerations the schools will work through over the next few months, Maestas said, will involve instructional schedule planning; joint use of facilities; signage drop-off and pick-up areas; and cafeteria and playground usage. The schools will also conduct regular meetings and provide quarterly updates on the transfer and planning.

“We understand the challenges that we may endure next school year; however, we are excited to welcome the EJ Martinez community onto our campus and look forward to working together to make this a positive experience for everyone,” Maestas said in the announcement.

In September, closing the school using the district’s recently-approved realignment policy was a proposed option to handle the property’s deterioration. Now, it is no longer on the table, replaced by an option to completely rebuild the school at a price between $14 million to $18 million that would come from the 2025 general obligation bond, if voters approve the bond in November next year. Rebuilding the school could take between 20 to 24 months after that.

Five years ago, the school board struck down a previous proposal to close and consolidate EJ Martinez, Acequia Madre and Nava Elementary schools after parents petitioned to keep the schools open and packed school board meetings urging the board to reconsider the plan. Shortly thereafter, school board candidates Sarah Boses and Carmen Gonzales ran campaigns opposing school closures and won their respective 2019 elections.

“I know there’s this constant struggle about what direction to take, but we’ve seen how that does play out, and how it does damage community when we consolidate schools,” Boses said at the meeting after expressing her support for rebuilding EJ Martinez.

Board President Sascha Anderson agreed, noting the difference in price between the options of repair or rebuild: repairing the roof alone would cost $11 million alone, and could increase to around $20 million depending on building code regulations that may need to be updated, according to March’s updated presentation.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me to replace the roof and not rebuild the school,” Anderson said. “That option just does not compute at all.”

Board member Kate Noble, who attended EJ Martinez as a child, said her support for the rebuild stems from what she’s heard in community conversations.

“I’ve been here a long time and I have observed what the community, what the school, what the students, what the parents ask for, and they do ask for small schools in their community, and EJ is very beloved by many of us,” Noble said.

Mandi Torrez, Think New Mexico’s education reform director, wrote to the school board in support of the school’s rebuild and, more broadly, in support of lower-population schools remaining in the Santa Fe Community.

“Providing access to small schools, rather than consolidating into larger schools, is the right way to improve student achievement. I personally know this to be true because I taught at a small school throughout my career,” Torrez, the state’s 2020 teacher of the year, wrote.

Jennifer Kahn, a parent to an EJ Martinez kindergarden student, also wrote in support of rebuilding.

“I do not doubt that once the roof and the heating and cooling systems are removed, there will be discoveries of other issues at hand that will need to be addressed,” Kahn wrote. “Why not just build a new facility that meets the needs of the community and provides environmental and health safeties?”

Grace Mayer, a Milagro Middle School teacher and president of the National Education Association’s Santa Fe chapter, was the only one at the meeting who disagreed with the idea of rebuilding the school. She noted the rising cost of materials and labor for construction, declining student enrollment and staff shortages as reasons to instead consider closing and consolidating the school.

“You have to understand how difficult it is to manage a district that’s a medium-sized district, but you have tons of properties, you have tons of real estate, and it costs money to keep them up,” Mayer says. “A small school in my view, has 350 [students]. Two or three of our schools right now can be combined to fit into that number. It’s not fair that someone at a small school like that has a class of 12, and then a larger school like El Camino [Real Academy] has 24 for the same grade level.”

The majority of schools in SFPS do not operate near full capacity. EJ Martinez has an estimated 181 students attending the school, despite having a capacity of 333 students. Chaparral was identified as the best school to relocate EJ Martinez students to due to its own under-enrollment: only a few more than 160 students in a school with a 342-student capacity

Additionally, a study of the area surrounding EJ Martinez conducted by Architectural Research Consultants, Inc. states the majority of the population is aged 49 or older, and that the percentage of students attending EJ Martinez has decreased from 69% in 2017 to 51% in 2022.

Noble noted at the meeting that she believes under-enrollment at EJ Martinez is most likely because the neighborhood is in “such an expensive part of town,” which results in fewer families with children living there.

The board unanimously voted to direct the CRC to prioritize rebuilding EJ Martinez for the 2025 round of bond funding at the end of the meeting. Board member Roman “Tiger” Abeyta was not present at the meeting.

The CRC’s next meeting will be March 20 at 6 pm.

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