Albuquerque Public Schools broke ground Thursday on a loop road at Jefferson Middle School, despite ongoing resistance from a group of neighbors and a City Council resolution to delay the project.
APS Superintendent Winston Brooks said the loop is essential for student safety. He also said more than 400 Jefferson parents have signed a petition to support it.
“We had to weigh the seven to 10 neighbors that are anti- and the 400-plus parents that are supportive and encouraging us to do this,” Brooks said.
The loop will be built on APS property, which means the city has no authority over most aspects of the project. The city’s only real authority is on whether to grant APS permits to cut into the curbs on Girard and Lomas.
“We’re rocking and rolling,” Brooks said. “We’re going to build a road, and we’ll worry about the curb cutout later.”
The district also sent a letter to Jefferson parents about the decision to start construction.
“We thought it important to explain why Albuquerque Public Schools is moving forward. It’s really very simple – student safety. For years now we have had concerns about student safety given the congested traffic on and near campus,” according to the letter, which is signed by Brooks, School Board President Martin Esquivel and Jefferson Principal Pam Meyers.
Jake Buehler, whose home is adjacent to the campus and will back up to the loop road, said APS’ move shows “arrogance.”
“I don’t understand why APS is so adamant at digging their heels in against just sitting down with the city planners and the neighbors to come up with a solution that works for everybody,” Buehler said.
A group of neighbors has been protesting the project since May, speaking at City Council meetings, contacting APS officials, and even spray-painting protest messages on their own fences, facing the campus. Those neighbors say they are concerned about pollution from idling cars and about the safety of students crossing the loop road. They also say APS has not involved them in the planning process.
Isaac Benton, the city councilor who represents the Jefferson area, got involved in the issue at Monday’s council meeting. He proposed a resolution, which passed 7-1, to keep APS from getting curb cut permits until the district meets with neighbors and city planners.
Benton and APS officials have been sniping at each other since Monday, with Esquivel saying he believes the City Council has overstepped its authority by interfering with a curb cut permit, which is normally a routine administrative matter. Esquivel has also accused Benton, who is running for re-election, of having political motives.
Benton has called this accusation “patently ridiculous.” He also contends that the council has the ultimate authority to make land use decisions in Albuquerque. He said Thursday that he is “disappointed and saddened” by APS’ decision to press ahead with the project.
“They’re not an island fortress,” he said. “They’re part of our community, and they should really act as if they’re part of the community.”