Belen's Family School receives $500k for new building

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Belen's Family School was awarded about $500,000, on top of the school's $3 million set aside, to build their proposed building.

Belen's Family School was awarded about $500,000, on top of the school's $3 million set aside, to build their proposed building.

Belen Consolidated Schools will receive funding for two classrooms outlined in the school's educational specifications from the New Mexico Public School Capital Outlay Council.

"We were hoping for 100 percent funding, but we're happy to get whatever they offer," Family School Principal Buddy Dillow told board of education members earlier this month.

To receive these funds, the district demonstrated to PSCOC members the alternative school was being utilized to its full potential, down-sized the school's educational specifications and established Family School was not a program.

District administrators went before PSCOC members earlier this month to demonstrate justifications for the request of additional funds. This included the district's decision to move from being utilized part time to doubling classroom hours and enrollment for third- and fourth-grade students.

Superintendent Ron Marquez said this change made the funding request more favorable, since the school is open full time and classroom space is utilized to its full potential.

When questions arose about the facilities' utilization and staff, George Perea, the district's director of business and finance, said he responded, "This is one of the top performing schools in the state with an A grade, and what's working for us is what we have currently and we want to keep what we have currently."

Family School officials scaled down original educational specifications for the school after PSCOC denied an initial funding request since the specifications surpassed statewide adequacy standards for a public school building.

The specifications were scaled down by $1.6 million, from $3.6 million to $2 million, and dropped square footage by almost half from 14,306 to 7,889.

During PSCOC meetings, PSCOC members debated whether to fund the school's construction, since they questioned if the school was classified as a program or a school.

But since PSCOC granted the funds, it illustrates that PSCOC "realize it is a school," Marquez said.

Doing so will pave the way for other districts throughout the state with similar schools to ask for state funds.

"I can see that not only are we going to benefit from the decisions of PSCOC, but other districts out there are going to follow suit and approach funding for their family schools, as well," said Belen Board of Education President Sam Chavez. "Belen can be a leader in this area. We're a pioneer."

The school has been housed in Rio Communities at the Valley Improvement Association building since its building on East Side School Road facility was condemned in 2009.

The proposed building will include three lab/classrooms, an extended learning area with the capability of being a computer lab, a wet/flex learning lab classroom, a first aid station, a staff multi-use room, storage room, principal's office, reception area and rest rooms.

Constructing a new building for Family School was an item approved by voters in February 2011 in a $23.75 million bond aimed at improving aging structures within the school district.

These state funds "makes our bond money go a little bit further," Chavez said.

The news of receiving PSCOC funds comes as the district approved a resolution for the issuance of the district's General Obligation School Building and Refunding Bonds, Series 2012, totaling $17,355.

The GO School Building Bonds cover $13.25 million of the $23.75 million bond. The remaining $4.1 million of the bond will cover the district's outstanding General Obligation School Building Bonds from Series 2002, 2003 and 2004 to generate savings for the taxpayer, said Charles Casey, bond salesman for the district.

Tax payers are estimated to save more than $143,000 in net savings, as well as maintain the tax rate and increase the district's future bonding capacity.

The Belen Board of Education will choose a bidder to purchase the bonds at its Nov. 13 meeting.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.