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Columbia Elementary to be demolished and built on new site

Following a discovery of mold at Columbia Elementary School last fall, the Las Cruces Public School Board voted unanimously to demolish Columbia and rebuild it near Vista Middle School.

“I know that there’s a lot of anxious people in our community, especially the families at Columbia,” said Ray Jaramillo, the school board member for district one.

“What I would like to see done is for the school board, the superintendent, everyone just to be straightforward with the people, the parents, and tell them the truth,” said Andy Pantoja, whose third grade grandson was at Columbia.

The board also decided to keep the 500 Columbia Elementary School students at Centennial High School, where they were moved in September 2018. The board voted to place additional playground equipment at Centennial and made accomodations to the bathroom equipment so it is more suited to young bodies.

“We feel very strongly to keep them at Centennial,” said Superintendent Dr. Greg Ewing. “We did hear concerns and we are addressing those concerns.”

District officials have said there has been minimal contact between the high school and elementary school kids.

“The kids are still walking around giving high fives to high school students,” Pantoja said. “High school students interacting with them on the way. They have to walk quite a distance to the cafeteria.”

In January, the public grilled school board members on the future of the 16-year-old school.

“You need to stop lollygagging around and make a decision,” said Jeffery Bankston in January, a parent of a ten-year-old, eight-year-old and six-year-old.

“There hasn’t been one mistake; there hasn’t been two mistakes,” Jaramillo said in January. “There has been decades of mistakes.”​

In January, board members learned new state funds from the New Mexico Public School Facilities Authority could potentially help fund remodeling the school or building a new one entirely.

With the cost below, the district would pay 34% of the cost and the state would pay 66% of the cost (not including offsite draining).

Total Cost District Cost State Cost OPTION 1 – Remodel the school on existing site $12 million

$6.2 million

$5.7 million OPTION 2 – Demolish the school and rebuild on existing site $35 million

$14.5 million

$20.4 million OPTION 3 – Demolish the school and rebuild on new site $34 million

$11.6 million +

cost of land

$19.8 million

Instead of the three options listed above, the board voted on the administration’s recommendation, which was to demolish the school, reconfigure the Vista Middle School parking lot for the new building, keep schoolkids in the neighborhood and have no redistricting.

A school spokesman said the funding for the administration’s recommendation would be similar to option #2.

“Our goal is to get on it and address the issues as quickly as possible and get kids back to as much of a normal environment that we possibly we can,” said Deputy Superintendent Gabe Jacquez.

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