City, RRPS discuss sites of 2 new schools

From left, Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull and Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education President Ramon Montaño listen as RRPS Superintendent Sue Cleveland speaks during a joint meeting of the school board and city governing body Wednesday at City Hall.

For the first time in recent memory, the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education met with the Rio Rancho Governing Body in a 75-minute workshop session last Wednesday to discuss development in Unit 10.

Mayor Gregg Hull termed the session “truly an historic moment,” and school board President Ramon Montaño said the get-together was “something the board has wanted.”

The “audience” included NAIOP board members, Sandoval Economic Alliance Executive Director Steve Jenkins, Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority engineers, Sandoval County Commissioner David Heil and City Clerk Steve Ruger. City Manager Keith Riesberg sat next to Hull.

City Councilor David Bency and school board member Martha Janssen were not in attendance.

The specific area plan for Unit 10 — bordered on the east by Unser Boulevard, on the north by Southern Boulevard, on the south by Black Arroyo Boulevard and on the west by Rainbow Boulevard — was adopted by the city on Aug. 24, 2016.

Hull said the school district’s plans for its newest high school and possibly the long-anticipated Joe Harris Elementary help give the city “a unique opportunity for development in Unit 10,” which, he added, has “great facilities and great assets already in the area.” Trails and parks, with multiple access points into the development, are in the works, along with plans for 450 homes.

Developer Pierre Amestoy said he anticipated homes being priced from $220,000 to “maybe a half-million (dollars),” with the bulk of them in the lower price range.

The school district has found itself in a dilemma: Joe Harris Elementary has a site plan in Unit 11, to the north, where it would be constructed on what Superintendent Sue Cleveland said is a rare level site, although in an already-developed neighborhood.

Overcrowding at Ernest Stapleton Elementary, near Northern and Broadmoor boulevards, had the school board planning to redistrict its elementary school boundaries and shuffle some of those students to Joe Harris Elementary in the future. But that couldn’t happen if the new school is to be built in Unit 10, although that site would help alleviate overcrowding at Martin Luther King Jr. and Maggie Cordova elementary schools.

Additionally, Cleveland noted, with development in northern Rio Rancho, between Idalia Road and Enchanted Hills Boulevard, “Sandia Vista Elementary will be filled very soon.”

“What are the best options for use?” queried Montaño. “Those schools weren’t built for 1,000 students.”

Joe Harris Elementary will be built for a capacity of 850 students, comparable to the district’s other elementary schools.

Cleveland said she didn’t want to see portables used as an option on the campuses, because they cost the same as brick-and-mortar classrooms and only last half as long, as well as presenting “a security nightmare.”

She also said development in Unit 10 would be a real plus for economic development, which in turn helps the school district.

The district wants to begin construction in January 2019 and have the school ready to open in August 2020, to meet the commitment to voters who approved bonds to build the new elementary a few years ago.

“The school has to be built somewhere really fast,” District 1 City Councilor Jim Owen said, noting both elementary school sites are in his district.

“We have a decision (on which site) to make by July 30,” Montaño said. “We’ve had extensive discussion on this.”

Cleveland said officials would have to decide on a site if they wanted a school to open on time.

Eventually, Hull said, Westside Boulevard would be connected to Rainbow, providing more access to northern Rio Rancho and Albuquerque’s West Side. But, he noted, there is “no identified funding source yet.”

The school district’s new high school is expected be in Unit 10 on the north side and western end of Westside, as no other location has been discussed.

The work session took place nine years and a day after the tragic death of Sandoval County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Harris, who was killed in a shootout in a cabin in the Jemez Mountains. He had served 20 years with the Rio Rancho Police Department before his final six years with the sheriff’s office.

The school board meets Monday at 5:30 in the district offices, 500 Laser Road. After its short session, board members will have a workshop to further discuss the relocation of Joe Harris Elementary from Unit 11 to Unit 10.

Also to be discussed are lobbyist services.