Rio Rancho High School, as it appeared a littler more than 25 years ago, on Loma Colorado Boulevard. This photo was taken from the south side of Loma Colorado Blvd. (Courtesy of RRPS)
Nobody said if there’d be cake, but there’s a silver anniversary coming up next week.
Twenty-five years ago – on Monday, Aug. 25, 1997 – Rio Rancho High School opened its doors to students.
Nearly 2,000 freshmen, sophomores and juniors officially became Rams. Katy Harvey termed the opening day “a little hectic.”
There weren’t any seniors – previously, most of these students had been attending Cibola High School, Del Norte High School and Jemez Valley High School. The school’s first graduating class was the Class of 1999.
Since those hectic days, thousands of graduates have received diplomas, dozens of championship athletic teams and fine arts teams have earned acclaim, and Vice President Dick Cheney, President Barack Obama, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and NFL Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher have been on the campus. And who can forget a scene with Walter White lugging a box of beakers and other chemistry stuff into the courtyard of RRHS in the first episode of “Breaking Bad”?
Funny thing – barely 10 years earlier, a referendum brought before Rio Rancho voters, asking if an independent school district should be created in the City of Vision, failed by a 4:1 margin (2,823 to 674). Fortunately, the bulk of those naysayers, dubbed the CAVE (citizens against virtually everything) people, either changed their minds or were outnumbered less than three years later. The issue of Rio Rancho having its own district “would resurface with vigor,” according to RRPS’s commemorative book of 2014, “Innovation, Partnerships, Results.”
“The issue became our kids were going to Albuquerque and Jemez,” Tom Swisstack, then Rio Rancho’s mayor, said. “We weren’t getting the quality of education that our kids deserved. APS wasn’t addressing the issues of Rio Rancho. A high school (here) was five years out and nobody wanted to wait that long.
“A lot of discussion took place behind the scenes to make that work. Intel stepped to the plate,” Swisstack said.
Intel “chipped” in after Sandoval County approved an $8 billion industrial bond for the computer giant.
The district became a reality in 1994. In March, 1996, ground was broken on Loma Colorado Boulevard for what we know as Rio Rancho High School.
Bradbury and Stamm built the $30 million school, funded by Intel, and the Science Academy became the first of five such academies to be completed. It was a 330,000-square-foot complex containing 833 tons of steel, the Aug. 30, 1996, Observer reported, with 110 workers on site at that time.
On Aug. 16, 1997, about 500 invited guests were given a tour of the soon-to-open campus. Among the invited guests were U.S. senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici, NM Gov. Gary Johnson, school board President Carl Harper, Sandoval County Commission Chairman Joe Lang and several Intel officials.
“We did that in the major courtyard right there,” recalled Swisstack. “We had students there, elected officials, parents. That was as one of the most-uniting events that I’ve ever seen in that city.”
Santa Fe Opera performed, sophomore Jessica Bachicha sang national anthem, and Principal Katy Harvey welcomed the guests, noting, “Rio Rancho students are coming home.”
Later that day, an open house attracted an estimated 4,000 visitors, and they got to hear the school’s new orchestra perform the fight song for the first time.
Looking back 25 years, Richard Draper, then Intel’s media relations manager and still involved in education here, said: “I vividly recall the morning when Intel’s then site manager, Bill Sheppard, addressed a cheering assembly of students at Lincoln Middle School. Bill held up a Pentium microchip in his fingers and said, ‘This is the fastest microprocessor in the world. It can process 100 million instructions a second. And you know what? It can also build Rio Rancho its first high school.’”
And it soon did.
“A rapidly growing community, with a new, independent school district, was in dire need of its own high school,” Draper added. “Intel was looking to build a huge new fab. In return for property tax relief, Intel was prepared to make a substantial, one-time payment toward a worthy community project.”
And even those CAVE people would have to agree that Rio Rancho High School was the best investment in the community’s future.