BELEN, NM (KRQE) – Belen’s oldest elementary school may close due to declining enrollment. District officials say the building has also fallen into “terrible disrepair,” but the discussion has met with mixed reactions. “It’s a part of Belen. I mean, everyone – all the locals know the school, ”said Daniel Jaramillo, owner of Floressence flower shop, of the nearby HT Jaramillo primary school.
The big question on the table for the Belen Board of Education is whether it will vote to close the campus, as the number of elementary school students enrolled across the district has reportedly declined over the past decade.
“Over the past ten years, the district has lost 853 students,” consultant Colleen Martinez said at a workshop earlier this week.
Officials said the costs of maintaining the 49,000-square-foot space are more than double those of other elementary schools, and utility bills are at least 20 percent higher. “It is the oldest school in the district and it is probably the most dilapidated in the district,” said council secretary Max Cordova.
Officials attribute the drop in primary school enrollment in Grade 3 in part to declining birth rates in the city and to transfer students. “Based on a capacity of 443, there are 193 places basically available at this school,” Martinez added.
They looked at two options for new attendance areas for the district’s elementary schools and what could be done with the aging building.
“I hope that whatever decision we take, we will go in the direction of the redistribution of the students and we keep the main building, which means that we will have to invest money in it,” Cordova said.
A former district council member was quick to blow up the council. She worked to get voter approval on a GO bond almost two years ago, in part, to rebuild the Jaramillo Primary School. She thinks there should be more time for audience input. “We really need to keep our families and our community in mind,” said former board member Lisa Chavez.
Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez added that the money could eventually be used to rebuild Dennis Chavez Elementary School. “One of the options is to move the students from Dennis Chavez to Jaramillo so that we can rebuild Dennis Chavez faster,” Sanchez said.
If the board votes to close Jaramillo Primary School, it wants to assure parents and staff that this won’t happen for at least a few years and that staff will be reassigned, they said at the workshop.
The superintendent said the board would study the future use of the historic part of the elementary school. The board could vote on the school’s future at its next meeting on Tuesday. They would still have to present their plan to the state. To watch the July 19 workshop, visit their YouTube page.