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Posted December 16, 2009

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December 2009: Building Albuquerque's Education System

This guest column appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

When I first came to New Mexico, I was surprised and more than a little impressed by the quality and quantity of new construction going on in the Albuquerque Public Schools. As our facilities people brought me up to speed on the many projects, I realized that they were not just solutions to overcrowding, but part of an overall vision for quality learning environments in Albuquerque.

The other thing I realized is that all this construction wouldn’t have happened without the support of Albuquerque voters who approved the last bond issue in 2006. APS is asking voters to go to the polls once again to approve a $616 million capital improvements package on Feb. 2, 2010. That’s right around the corner.

Hundreds of people worked together in support of a common goal to make the last bond election successful. These were folks who went door to door to “get ‘er done,” and APS students were the winners. Eleven new schools have been built in the last four years.

The economic impact alone produces enormous benefits for Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. For the entire 2008-09 fiscal year, the district spent between $20 million and $28 million a month on construction, which represented two-thirds of all commercial building in the city. That meant quite a bit to businesses and individuals when the bottom fell out of the economy. Even now, at the end of the bond cycle, APS still generates 63 percent of current commercial construction in the city.

While the last bond took care of new, large West Side projects like Volcano Vista and Atrisco Heritage Academy high schools, the upcoming capital master plan addresses the needs of some of our older school buildings and 120 sites in all. For example, Sandia High School is 50 years old, and has had little done to it in the way of upgrades or improvements. Time and heavy use have naturally taken a toll and work needs to be done sooner rather than later. Jackson and McKinley middle schools and Inez Elementary also are slated for major renovations or additions.

The district is scheduling community meetings between now and the election to gather public input. Please visit www.aps.edu or www.apsfacilities.org for dates and locations, as well as more detailed information on the election.

The funds your schools received in the last election also were distributed fairly to address health and safety issues first, and their growth and program needs. The emphasis was on the West Side because that’s where the greatest overcrowding issues were. Obviously, we couldn’t continue to house 3,000 students in one high school, or have middle and elementaries with 1,600 each. But we also kept up with needed additions at Chelwood and Osuna elementaries, with projects at Wherry and Emerson just getting started.

New construction brings the added benefit of energy efficiency and environmental awareness. “Going green” means long-term savings of taxpayer dollars, while increased natural lighting inside buildings creates a better learning environment for students. The many technologically advanced features also create teaching opportunities, as the buildings themselves become learning tools.

I hope you can see all the good that’s come out of construction at APS—both academically and economically. Like I said, one of the first things that struck me about Albuquerque was the school buildings, and I suspect newcomers to town notice the same thing. Schools define what a community is all about. It’s important for the community to know that APS students are learning in state-of-the-art facilities.

Quality schools are the best legacy we can leave for our kids.

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