Welcome to the improv that is the New Mexico School for the Arts.
Improvisation has been the name of the game since the state charter high school opened in a former Catholic elementary school in 2010. The school moved into the former Sanbusco Market Center in 2019.
In the first year at Sanbusco, the paseo of the former shopping center served as the dining area. So far, there hasn’t been a second year for students on campus.
While students are learning from home, Klinger Constructors of Albuquerque is building a cafeteria at the school. Work is ahead of schedule because no students or teachers have been around since construction started in March, Head of School Eric Crites said.
“One of the things I’m most excited about is the cafeteria is intentionally designed to be the heart of the school,” Crites said. “It creates an additional space for our artists to come together to work on senior projects. We are going to apply the same philosophy as we did to the classrooms that everything is moveable.”
The cafeteria will also be the public event space and serve as a study hall.
“We will have a gathering space where the entire school can meet,” school President Cindy Montoya said. “We will have a proper eating area.”
The cafeteria will have a movable stage to create a performance space, Crites said.
The school substantially remodeled Sanbusco’s three buildings, one dating to 1880. The cafeteria is the first new structure. A dormitory for 60 students and a theater are slated for the future, Crites said.
The $3.8 million, 7,486-square-foot cafeteria will have a 4,956-square-foot assembly space with capacity for 330 students. The school now has 286 students.
The 1,365-square-foot kitchen will remain empty because of budget constraints but will become a full kitchen to prepare meals for dorm students once the dormitory is built. Crites said the school will ask the Legislature in 2021 for $1.465 million to finish the cafeteria, including building out the kitchen.
The school received $4.2 million in capital funding in 2019 from the Legislature to cover the design of the cafeteria, the initial design of the dormitory, demolition costs and construction of the cafeteria minus the kitchen, fencing on the courtyard outside the cafeteria and other finishing items, Crites said.
A dormitory eventually will be built across the courtyard from the cafeteria. Students living in Albuquerque ride the New Mexico Rail Runner Express commuter train, and those in Los Alamos, Española, the Pojoaque Valley and Abiquiú take the Park and Ride bus. Students from farther away would live in the dorms.
Dorm students lived at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Retreat and Conference Center until in-school teaching ended March 12 and the residential program was suspended.
The school acquired Sanbusco Market Center in 2015 and started renovations in March 2018. The work involved extensive demolition, shoring up the foundation and converting retail space into classrooms, rehearsal halls and practice rooms, Montoya said.
Construction was completed in July 2019 and school started in August 2019.
“We literally moved an entire school in a week,” Montoya said.
The cafeteria should be finished in May.
“As an arts school, we have a lot of experience of using every square foot we have for multiple purposes,” Crites said. “When you have a community full of creative thinkers, you see a lot of ingenuity happening. The fact we were able to repurpose a structure that has had so many uses over the years into a space that allows us to operate a full academic curriculum and full arts curriculum is remarkable.”