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Church site considered for charter school expansion

Some initial discussions have occurred about locating the Sidney Gutierrez Elementary School in the First United Methodist Church building. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Leaders of the city’s only charter school are considering a church building for its planned elementary school expansion.

Members of the Sidney Gutierrez Middle School Governing Council have voted to contract with a local architect, Hal Barnett, for an initial assessment of the second floor of the First United Methodist Church building at North Pennsylvania Avenue and West Second Street.

School officials are considering the site for the expansion to include kindergarten to fifth grades, although they have not entered into formal negotiations yet. The expansion is expected to begin fall 2020.

“I think it is okay to say we are considering this building,” said Yasine Armstrong, vice president of the council. “But we haven’t nailed anything down.”

Questions at First United Methodist were referred to Pastor Laird Cross, who was said to be out of town for the week and unable to comment by press time.

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Council members and Principal Joe Andreis said that they have conferred with state school facilities staff and talked with the school’s lawyer as they have proceeded in efforts to find suitable space.

They also said they worked with realtors to view many commercial properties, and they also have asked the Roswell Independent School District, Chaves County, the city of Roswell and the Roswell International Air Center, and Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell about available space.

School and government entities told them that there wasn’t available space for the school’s needs, they said, while all the commercial buildings, including the one at the air center, either would not meet the state school occupancy standards or would have required a great deal of money in renovations.

“We have done an exhaustive search,” Andreis said. “Where we are at, I think we are in a good place. We at least have some direction now. We have a focus.”

Armstrong and Andreis said that initial discussions have occurred with some church officials, but a decision about whether to proceed with negotiations will have to wait until after the assessment.

The assessment, to cost about $2,500 and to be paid by operational funds dedicated to the Governing Council, is meant to evaluate the potential instructional space, the compliance of the building and restrooms with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the water, electrical, lighting, fire suppression and security systems. Then Sidney Gutierrez officials would have a better idea on whether renovations are feasible.

Another point is that the church has indicated that it intends to upgrade its heating, ventilation and air conditioning unit, and school officials are not sure if the church intends to do that by fall 2020.

Sidney Gutierrez has been authorized by the Roswell Independent School District since November 2000, and it consistently has been ranked as one of the best performing middle schools in New Mexico by the state and various educational data sites. It also has received “A” grades from the New Mexico Public Education Department each year that grades have been given.

In November the local school district approved the charter school’s expansion plans to add up to 130 additional students for kindergarten and the five elementary grades. School leaders have said they are not sure at this point if they will open the elementary with all grades at once, or start with a few grades and add more each year.

But because Sidney Gutierrez is small, with only about 22 students in each grade, it is unlikely to make the state priority list for facility renovations or construction, Andreis said.

The charter’s nonprofit foundation, and possibly some grants, are expected to pay for the church renovation, if that option moves forward.

Andreis said that if the church building does not prove to be a viable option, school officials could look into obtaining the needed variances and land leases for the school’s existing site on Gail Harris Street in the Roswell International Air Center to allow for purchasing and installing modular units, or portable buildings, for the elementary grades.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.