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Friday, September 29, 2023

School district breaks ground at San Juan Mountain School site

SUN photo/Randi Pierce
San Juan Mountain School students and staff, as well as Archuleta School District staff, pose for a photo following Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the school’s new building. The school, in its first year, is a district-operated alternative high school.

By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

On Monday, staff and students of Archuleta School District’s (ASD) newest school, San Juan Mountain School (SJMS), as well as school board members and others, broke ground at the site of SJMS’s school building.

SJMS, now in its first year, is an alternative high school currently operating out of Pagosa Springs High School facilities.

Beginning next year, the school will be located on district-owned land adjacent to Pagosa Springs High School.

According to an ASD press release, the SJMS facility “will include a kitchen area, 2 classrooms designed with 21st century learning targets in mind, an outdoor learning environment, and office spaces. SJMS will serve approximately 60 students next year, with a projected growth of 20% each year thereafter. 

Monday’s ceremony featured speeches from a trio of the school’s seniors — Jacob Hartley, Rheanna Gallegos and Alicia Smith.

The district’s press release notes the seniors all received credit for the speeches, “putting them one step closer to graduation” on June 5.

Monday’s ceremony followed a vote by the ASD Board of Education on April 13 to award a contract to install a modular building for SJMS.

ASD previously purchased a modular building to house the new school, but installation of the building was delayed due to cost.

In October 2020, ASD received a bid of $244,000 to install the modular building and do additional work at the site, which would have put the project over budget. 

At the time, the board opted to seek other bids and look into options to expand the school in the future. 

On April 13, Todd Stevens, project manager, presented a proposal from an Ignacio firm to do the installation for $103,777.

The bid, Stevens told the board, includes the foundation, retaining walls and sidewalks, but does not include things like electrical, plumbing and things such as patios, entries and exits.

That, agenda documentation explains, is approximately $50,000 lower than the second bid received.

“It is long overdue,” Superintendent Dr. Kym LeBlanc-Esparza told the board. 

The BOE approved the bid proposal and authorized LeBlanc-Esparza to sign the contract, as well as a contingency not to exceed $10,000 for potential change orders.

Board president Bruce Dryburgh thanked those involved, and Principal Steward Bellina celebrated the decision before inviting the board to the groundbreaking ceremony.

Work at the site began Monday.

An ‘amazing’ first year

According to Bellina, the school’s first year has been “amazing” despite the challenges.

“I am so grateful to the school board, the administration team, and our local community for their support this year,” Bellina wrote in an email to The SUN. “We have had an amazing first year, despite opening an entirely new school during a pandemic.”

Bellina added, “We have seen drastically improved attendance rates, increases in credit completion, and a student body who is unified around designing a school that works for them. It is really exciting to watch a group of students who typically feel as though they don’t fit in school create a learning environment which works for them. They have taken the reins and developed a program we can all be proud of. My teachers Andy Guinn and Scott White have both given their all to the design of units which are engaging, hands-on, and applicable to the real world.”

One of those units, she explains, is a personal finance class for a math credit, with students learning about interest rates, insurance, taxes and savings.

Another outlined by Bellina is a science class in which students study local birds, native plants and “even take part in service learning projects designed around creating native habitats.” 

“As I look forward to the next school year, I am most excited about the possibility to engage our students with various community partnerships we had to put on hold this year,” Bellina wrote.

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