County looks at old school building

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The Socorro County Commission directed county staff to work out a deal with the school district so the county can take over the San Antonio School building.

County manager Delilah Walsh said during the county’s regular meeting Nov. 27 Socorro Consolidated School District has been considering its five-year plan for infrastructure, and one major project in the plan is to either remodel or replace the San Antonio Elementary School building.

Walsh said last year, the previous superintendent of the school district asked if the county would take over the building so the district could build a new school for San Antonio, but then administration changed and the county didn’t hear back from them again.

Vice chair and District 1 Commissioner Pauline Jaramillo, who also serves on the Socorro Consolidated Schools Board of Education, said the board passed its five-year plan Nov. 26.

John Dennis, head teacher at San Antonio Elementary School, said the plan is to construct a new building rather than remodel the old one. He said the existing school building is 88 years old, and although structurally sound, a lot of the infrastructure is out of compliance with modern regulations. He said they would rather buy a piece of land from the Bureau of Land Management and build a new school.

Dennis said the county might be interested in the school’s gymnasium and cafeteria, which is actually only 12 years old and is commercial grade. Also, he said the school’s computer lab is also only 12 years old and is wired for 20 computer terminals.

“I would hate to see the building go to waste,” Dennis said. “It’s been around 88 years; it’s a landmark. So if the county could take it on, that would be great.”

Dennis said if the county doesn’t take the old building, the school district would have to demolish it. He explained the school district has to get rid of the old building; by law, the district can’t own the old building and build a new one at the same time. Walsh added the school district cannot hold empty assets.

One commissioner asked if the old building would be ideal for a senior center. Dennis said he wouldn’t say it was ideal, but with some improvements to the building and some landscaping, it could be brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act fairly easily.

Dennis estimated it would be two years before the school can move into its new building. Walsh said that would give county staff time to look for planning grants.

Dennis said although the school district can’t own empty assets, the school can stay in the old building until the new one is ready to move into. He explained the school district can’t plan to keep both buildings.

Board chairman and District 4 Commissioner Daniel Monette said he wants an asbestos test performed on the old building first before any agreement is made because the county could not afford to have that removed. He said all the WPA buildings — of which the San Antonio School is one — had asbestos, and that is his only concern.

Jaramillo asked Fred Hollis, emergency services administrator for the county, to share his thoughts on the issue. Hollis is a resident of San Antonio and chief of the San Antonio Volunteer Fire Department.

Hollis said he understands the county needs to make sure the building has no asbestos, but he is fairly certain there is none or it wouldn’t have been allowed to be used as a school.

Hollis thought the old school building would make a great community center for San Antonio. He said the new school is to have an activities room, not a complete gym like the old school has, and it would be nice to keep the old gym open for use by the school’s basketball players. He added the old gym has many other uses — the community Halloween carnival, Festival of the Cranes events and more. He said there are a number of other things they can do with the old gym.

Hollis said San Antonio residents were discussing forming a committee to clean and care for the building so the county would not have to worry about any extra expense if it takes the building over. He added if there were to be a fire in the area, the gym would be the shelter location.

“If they happen to tear it down, we won’t have any place down there,” Hollis said. “It has the kitchen, it has the gym to open up the shelter.”

Hollis said the old school would be a great asset to the emergency management department, as well as to the county as a whole.

Richard Tafoya, volunteer firefighter, San Antonio resident and 4-H volunteer, said if they can save the building and have it for a community center, that would help 4-H. He said right now 4-H meets at the senior center, which is very small. He said the fire department will let them use the fire station on special occasions, but it’s hard to have a dance there because it is not large enough.

District 5 Commissioner Juan Gutierrez said the old building has a lot of potential, plus it is an 88-year-old landmark. He motioned to direct county staff to work out a deal with the school district for the county to take over the building.

Commissioners unanimously passed the motion. Monette added many families in Lemitar bus their children to San Antonio Elementary due to the school’s accreditation.