Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct an error. Shining Stars Preschool does provide bus service.
Frustrated with having to pay for road improvements to support new schools, often unexpectedly, City of Rio Rancho officials are calling for better communication and coordination with Rio Rancho Public Schools.
During their meeting Wednesday, Rio Rancho Governing Body members unanimously approved using $170,000 left over from the 2018 voter-approved general-obligation road bond to install a temporary traffic signal at the intersection of Idalia Road and Loma Colorado Boulevard to handle increased traffic flow when the new Shining Stars Preschool opens in August. The projects the 2018 bond funded were completed under budget.
City Public Works Director BJ Gottlieb said the intersection needed new left-turn lanes and drainage improvements, costing a total of $500,000 or more. He said RRPS officials told him they believed the intersection was too far from school grounds for law to allow them to pay for the work.
The district funded the construction of roads on and nearer to the campus to allow for access, with only the Idalia/Loma Colorado intersection work left undone, Gottlieb said.
He said the temporary signal would partially alleviate congestion.
“That being said, permanent measures must be constructed in the future by Rio Rancho Public Schools, and this is a drainage-mitigation approach to the areas around that intersection and including the left-hand turn lanes at that intersection,” Gottlieb said.
He said he’s encouraged school officials to in the future look at sites with proper infrastructure already in place.
Acting City Manager Peter Wells said he thought the governing body and school board should hold joint meetings to hash out solutions to such situations.
Wells said private developers have to pay for improvements to handle the people coming to their new development.
“I think that is fair; I think that is what needs to be done,” he said.
City staff members added the permanent improvements to the Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan so the city could get money for them if the state wanted to fund them.
“This is a hot button for me. It has been for awhile,” said City Councilor Jim Owen.
He said he thought the district’s legal interpretation that it couldn’t fund the improvements was incorrect, but if it was correct, the law needed to be changed. He also said local residents would support a higher bond to pay for road improvements around schools.
City Attorney Greg Lauer said the interpretation is archaic and should be updated.
RRPS spokeswoman Beth Pendergrass said in an email Friday that the district and the City of Rio Rancho are under-funded, which leaves each vying for limited resources. As the population grows, she said, the district must build schools and can’t do it alone.
“We rely on the community to pass bonds, for organizations such as (Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority) to assist us with flood control, and for the county and the city to assist with infrastructure,” Pendergrass said. “We also try to do our part, with our limited funds, beyond providing quality spaces where our community’s children can learn.
She said the district is paying $1.3 million toward city infrastructure around the school.
“The one item that the city requested that we truly felt we could not legally pay for was improving the existing intersection at Loma Colorado and Idalia, a half-mile from the school,” Pendergrass said.
Law limits use of school general obligation bonds to school buildings, the grounds, computer hardware and software, and matching funds for certain school projects, she said.
“It’s unfortunate the city feels that there was a communication break-down. We certainly recognize the frustration around that and will work to improve where we can,” Pendergrass said.
She said district employees have been communicating with the city about the location and needs of the new Shining Stars since October 2017, and the city requested that the district pay for the intersection improvements less than a year ago.
“We are very appreciative that the city plans to improve the intersection as it has been a long standing need,” Pendergrass said.
Wednesday, City Councilor Jennifer Flor said she supported getting the signal as soon as possible, since there wasn’t time to design and build the permanent improvements. She added that she supports Shining Stars and her son attends the school.
Mayor Gregg Hull said the city and RRPS coordinated on the location of the new Joe Harris Elementary, but multiple school board members had in the past told him plans for new school sites had to be secret. The secrecy led to infrastructure problems near multiple schools, because the city hadn’t been able to budget for better roads in advance, he said.
“The same taxpayers that live in the city go to the schools,” Hull said. “We’re a team.”
In other business, governing body members:
• Heard an update on work to decommission Wastewater Treatment Plant 1 on Sara Road. Utilities Director Jim Chiasson said the smell from the plant would be worse this weekend during decommissioning, but after two or three days, odors would permanently decrease.
• Gave final authorization for the sale of the voter-approved 2020 road and public-safety bonds.
• Approved a budget adjustment to spend $350,000 to replace the failing 14-year-old boiler that heats water at Santa Ana Star Center.
• Awarded a $3.2 million contract to T.A. Cole and Sons General Contractors Inc. to build the first phase of Campus Park in City Center.
• Moved the time of work sessions on the third Tuesday of the month to 5 p.m.