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New school shows commitment to sustainability

SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe Public Schools officials say the new middle school expected to open next year will be built to last.

Construction of the new Milagro Middle School on Llano Street is a $32-million project. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

“I think it will be a great example of Santa Fe Public Schools’ commitment to sustainability,” Lisa Randall, the school district’s sustainability program coordinator, said of Milagro Middle School, under construction at Llano Street just south of St. Michael’s Drive at the site of the former DeVargas Middle School.

Randall was talking about sustainability in terms of energy and water conservation. But the new school – with a budget of about $32 million – is designed to withstand the test of time with regard to accommodating generations of students, as well.

The two-story, 117,690-square-foot building will have 19 regular classrooms, plus additional classrooms for academic support and services. It will also have space for a Family Consumer Science program, and culinary arts, autism and life skills rooms, and a maker-space for collaborative projects, such as 3D printing and robotics.

“There’s the potential for a real strong science program,” Randall said.

Santa Fe is famous for arts and music, and the schools will have two classrooms for the arts, and separate rooms for choir, band and orchestra, as well as individual practice rooms for music students.

It will also be equipped with optical fiber and connected to the school district’s network, providing high-speed internet and communication transmissions throughout the school.

Leo Prenevost is the project manager. He said construction at the new school is now about one-third complete. It is expected to be finished by June, allowing for next summer to be spent moving in furniture and appliances for the school to be ready for students next fall.

Milagro will have a contemporary look and be built around a large courtyard, he said.

Workers install the bus drop-off portal at Milagro Middle School, under construction on Llano Street.

The school can optimally accommodate 650 students in grades 7 and 8, he said. Currently, Milagro students are housed at the former Capshaw Middle School. The school board made the controversial decision in 2016 to combine Capshaw and DeVargas middle schools due to declining enrollment at both schools and with the intent of offering students more programs.

School officials plan to use Capshaw as a site for three alternative high schools currently located in other parts of the city.

Meanwhile, DeVargas was torn down to make way for a new school.

“About 50 percent of the tear down was diverted to recycling streams,” Randall said.

Metal and wiring from the old building was scrapped to be used again, and concrete was crushed to be reused as a road base.

Sustainability features

While much of what was torn down was recycled, what’s being built will be all new, integrating many of the latest sustainability features.

Randall said the school will be entirely equipped with LEED lighting.

“The costs (for LEED) have come down so significantly it doesn’t add much to the overall cost,” she said, adding that LEED is about 30 percent more efficient than regular electric lighting, thus saving money in the long run.

Interior lighting will be plugged in to vacancy sensors that turn on when someone walks into a room and turn off if the sensors don’t detect motion within the room after a certain period of time.

Similarly, lighting in the parking lot will have dual settings, meaning that lights will always be on, but will dim when motion is not detected to conserve energy.

The parking lot will include two solar PV car ports with underground infrastructure in place to allow for expansion without having to tear up the lot. Eleven of the district’s 30 campuses already have solar PV ports that are tied into PNM’s grid.

The under-construction Milagro Middle School has a 40,000-gallon cistern to hold rainwater that will be used mostly for irrigation. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Also buried underground will be a 40,000-gallon water cistern that will collect rain water from the roof to be used primarily for irrigation purposes. Landscaping will consist of drought-tolerant trees and shrubs. Attention is being paid to trees that provide shading to make the place feel welcoming, she said.

Each classroom will have windows, allowing for natural light to shine in.

The building will also be equipped with low-flow water fixtures, bottle-filling stations and Energy Star appliances. “That’s just standard now,” Randall said.

Smart meters will also be installed to monitor the use of water, natural gas and electricity. Randall said that the meters are connected to a real-time web-enabled dashboard that allows facility managers to detect leaks and provide data that staff and students can use, if they desire.

Also pretty standard these days are synthetic turf athletic fields, which Randall said saves millions of gallons of water each year.

“It takes about 60 inches of water during the growing season to keep a grass field healthy and safe for use. We get about 12 inches (of rain) per year,” she said.

Another feature are ground-source heat pumps. More than 200 bore holes will be drilled 300 feet into the ground to access water which, at that level, is approximately 55 degrees, again requiring less energy to heat the water.

The ground-sourced HVAC system uses about half the energy of a typical K-12 facility, Randall said, adding that such systems were also built into Nina Otero and Amy Biehl community schools.

Coupled with that is continuous insulation – insulation free of thermal bridging – on exterior walls.

“Any contractor will tell you that HVAC is only as good as the building envelope,” Randall said.

When complete, project manager Prenevost said Santa Fe Public Schools will have a new middle school everyone can be proud of.

“I think it’ll be a nice building for the new school community, and a fresh and exciting place for students,” he said.