Capitan schools in a bind

By Todd Fuqua

A look at the proposed design for the new Capitan elementary school, which would have been paid for by a bond which was defeated in August. (Courtesy)

CAPITAN – Not all construction is going as planned in Lincoln County. Capitan’s school district completed a new high school and middle school on its campus last year, and before the start of the 2017-18 year, they tore down the old school bordering First Street.

The next step was to raise money through a bond election to build a new elementary school, but that bond failed in a low-turnout election in August.

Crews finish the dismantling of the old Capitan High School, located on the north end of the campus. (Photo by Todd Fuqua)

Now, Capitan Schools Superintendent Sean Wooton and the school board need to re-evaluate what to do about the district’s aging elementary building.

“If that bond had passed, we would be bonding to capacity, at $22 million,” Wooton said. “That would include $15.8 million for a new elementary school.”

Plans called for new classrooms for HeadStart, special education, and a new district-wide cafeteria and commons area in the K-5 school.

Wooton said part of the failure was attributable to his unpreparedness when trying to sell the bond to voters – particularly those living in the Alto area.

“They wanted us to have an architectural plan, but six percent of our fees is for architectural plans,” Wooton said. “We couldn’t get them because we didn’t have the money for it yet. We also based the price on what the new high school and middle school had cost.”

According to Wooton, conditions at the current elementary school are dire – a sinking foundation, inoperable air conditioning, and other problems related to an outdated building that has been expanded beyond its original and intended design.

Currently, the district is working with the State Public School Facilities Authority to get Capitan on the funding list, which would prioritize the needs of the district.

Wooton is also re-tooling the district’s message to voters, inviting them – urging them – to visit the school and see for themselves the conditions.

“Come hear the story and see this school and what the teachers and kids are dealing with before you say no to a tax increase,” Wooton said. “This would not be a waste at all.

“District-wide, we were up 74 students from last year,” he added. “I’m happy for that, but that also means we add more teachers, and I have to find room for these students and classes.”

Wooton also said operating costs of the new, efficient school building would be drastically less than what they have now.

“I could have done a better job of breaking down those costs of the old building,” said Wooton, pointing out that it costs four times as much to run the old building as it does to maintain the new high school and middle school facility.

The new school would have covered part of the footprint of the old building, close to the current administration building with a breezeway, and building a bit out to the current parking lot.

For now, where the high school used to be will remain vacant until the district can move forward on its master plan.

“There was a district-wide master plan, and it was already determined it was not equitable spending to repair the current elementary school,” Wooton said. “We need to build brand new, and it’s our job to convince voters of that.”

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