Santa Fe school board members have allocated nearly $4.5 million more for one of the first phases of an ongoing building project at Early College Opportunities High School — the result of rising costs for construction materials, an official said.
The additional money, which pushes the project’s budget to more than $20 million, will come from contingency funds from general obligation bonds approved by voters in 2017 and 2021.
“Over the last two years we saw this huge escalation due to supply chain issues,” district Director of Executive Operations Gabe Romero told the board at a meeting Thursday.
Santa Fe Public Schools has a goal of expanding the hands-on school’s enrollment to 400 students compared to 150 in 2021-22, with a list of kids waiting to enroll in a program that allows them to earn professional certificates and associate degrees through community college courses while also earning a diploma.
But such an expansion would require an overhaul of ECO’s campus on Zia Road.
“If we’re able to build it out, then we’re able to promote it and really increase enrollment,” Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez said at the board meeting.
Phase 1B of the ECO campus project, now underway, includes construction of a multi-use gym, a new classroom building and administrative offices.
Nearly $10.1 million was allocated for the project when voters in the district approved a general obligation bond in 2017.
The district shifted $3.5 million more in bond funds to ECO to cover project costs in spring 2021 after construction cost increases hindered the district’s ability to hire a contractor for the work within its budget.
In 2021, voters approved another general obligation bond, which allocated about $14.5 million for ECO — including $2.7 million for Phase 1B. As part of the phase, the district demolished the school’s old technical vocational building to create space for administrative offices and a gym.
“This has long since been a need for the campus,” Romero said Thursday.
The project underway is part of a larger vision for ECO developed in 2018 that would replace portable buildings on campus with permanent structures and renovate existing facilities.
Dax Contreras, a member of the district’s Community Review Committee, said the additional funding approved Thursday is “the best option out of not a lot of good options. That’s why we voted in unanimous form to support this. Because otherwise the next step would be to start having to cancel projects. And unfortunately, that’s just the world we live in right now.”
Romero warned the board other building and renovation projects funded by bonds might need to be reevaluated due to rising prices.
“We’ll have to probably make some tougher decisions than this as we move forward,” he said.
Board President Kate Noble and members Sascha Anderson and Sarah Boses approved the new allocation. Board Vice President Rudy Garcia and member Carmen Gonzales were not in attendance.
Boses expressed confidence in the move and said the district team involved in overseeing construction projects is “very good” at moving projects around to make sure they’re completed.
“The reallocation for ECO doesn’t impact any other projects for 2021,” Boses said in a text message Monday. “But it did use a lot of the contingency fund.”