Rio Rancho Public Schools leaders are considering constructing two new buildings to alleviate overcrowding.

With Independence High and Cyber Academy above enrollment capacity, RRPS is about to decide what’s next – and where to build two new schools.

The district Board of Education heard about the issue and options at their special meeting Monday. The final decision didn’t come then but should be forthcoming soon, possibly at the Dec. 12 regular meeting.

RRPS Chief Operating Officer Mike Baker discussed several scenarios at the meeting.

“I don’t want to pressure the board because there’s long-term ramifications with this decision,” cautioned Baker.

A 10-acre site, purchased by the district with the former Alliance Data Systems building on Zenith Court to be transformed into a Career-Technical Education facility, could host new buildings for IHS, the Cyber Academy or both, he said.

The building costs, Baker told the board, are $28 million for a new IHS and $15 million for a new Cyber Academy.

With the floor of the old multi-purpose room in the foreground, the rest of the former site of Shining Stars Preschool’s campus lies to the east, with a dozen or so buildings still intact. Gary Herron photo.

The district could also use the property on the southwest corner of Northern and Rockaway boulevards, where Shining Stars Preschool once stood. It’s centrally located, Baker said.

Although the City of Rio Rancho owns that property, the district’s lease lasts another 70 years. There is more than enough room for a 25,000-square-foot Cyber Academy and a 50,000-square-foot IHS, as well as parking on the west end of the site – not suitable for building, he said, because of underground infrastructure.

Or, Baker said, the district could build on other property, including the site once eyed as the location for Joe Harris Elementary, or “swapping land with other landowners.”

The advantage to building off NM 528 and Zenith Court is having the three facilities centrally located.

The disadvantage there and at the old Shining Stars site is the traffic flow, although it would be easier to have the traffic flow off Northern into the old Shining Stars site than the must-turn-north mandate exiting the NM 528-Zenith site.

“It would be a very busy place, so traffic would be an issue,” Baker said, advising staggered start times, “some logistical issues that we can work out.”

Additionally, Baker said, he’d heard from Superintendent Sue Cleveland and the board that “we really want to build Independence High School as quickly as possible” and “make this decision quickly so we can get on with the architectural work.”

Chief Academic Officer Carl Leppelman said access for students is important, thus having IHS and the Cyber Academy close to the new CTE building makes it easier for students taking CTE classes. They could walk from their main school and not have to be bused.

A new charter school, with an estimated 350 students, will soon open south of the CTE building, meaning that area could have as many as 2,000 students – comparable to a high school campus.

“I’m worried about what it’s going to look like in terms of traffic,” Cleveland said, regarding the NM 528-Zenith site, with several long-standing businesses in that area and adding traffic congestion.

“Nothing is impossible,” she concluded, urging board members to go into a decision with their eyes wide open.

First-term board member Gary Tripp wasn’t very enthusiastic about what he’d heard, saying, “I don’t see a school that grows engagement and instruction … We’re just putting bodies in a building,” which he believed would have “too many cars and too many teenaged drivers” at the NM 528-Zenith location.

Board members Noreen Scott and Jessica Tyler were also worried about the traffic problem if IHS and Cyber Academy were built near the CTE building.

Tripp suggested building IHS at the old Shining Stars site and moving the Cyber Academy into the IHS building on Quantum Road.

“Those neighbors never liked that school being there. They always complained about the noise,” Cleveland said, referring to the former Shining Stars campus, originally the site of Ernest Stapleton Elementary.

Baker advised having one of the two built at the CTE site, with alternative sites to be considered for the other – possibly near Cielo Azul Elementary, north of King Blvd., where Baker said a middle school was expected to be situated someday.

But a motion by Tyler, seconded by board member Jeffrey Morgan, saw unanimous approval to have architectural designs for both schools built somewhere other than the CTE site.

In other matters at the Dec. 5 meeting:

  • Although most have put COVID-19 in their rear-view mirrors, “Right now, we are dealing with a lot of illness across our district,” Cleveland told the board. “We still have some COVID cases. We’ve had a good number of flu, and there’s also a respiratory virus that is impacting our elementary children.”
  • Executive Director of Athletics Bruce Carver introduced the four high school teams that won state championships and mentioned with two state runners-up. Rio Rancho high schools captured six of 12 possible first- or second-place finishes in the fall sports. The Cleveland High School football team, girls’ cross country team and boys’ soccer team, along with the Rio Rancho High School boys’ cross country team, were state champions.
    The RRHS girls’ cross country team and CHS girls’ soccer team finished second. Some of the head coaches and a few players addressed the board, thanking members for continued support.
    Carver lauded ingredients for such success: lots of talent, a positive culture, discipline and the ability to overcome adversity.
  • Executive Director of Finance David Vigil gave his department’s report, which included details of purchasing and food services. “You can see that the district is in fine hands, in terms of looking over the financial affairs of the district,” Vigil said, pointing out a combined 155 years of relevant experience of his seven-person finance leadership team.
  • As expected, board approval of a $600 donation by HP to Maggie Cordova Elementary was unanimous.
  • The board approved a $1.19 million purchase of furniture for Rio Rancho Middle School. Six vendors – four from Albuquerque and two from out of state – submitted bid proposals, with Business Environments selected.