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New, state-of-the-art Bernalillo High opens

Bernalillo High principal Keith Cowan cuts the ribbon to his new school. On his right is New Mexico education chief Hanna Skandera. Pictured far left is Bernalillo Public Schools Superintendent Allan Tapia. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Bernalillo High principal Keith Cowan cuts the ribbon to his new school. On his right is New Mexico education chief Hanna Skandera. Pictured far left is Bernalillo Public Schools Superintendent Allan Tapia. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — More than 100 parents, tribal leaders, city officials and even the state’s secretary of education came out to celebrate the town of Bernalillo’s new high school Friday morning.

Staged outside the school’s new all-glass front entrance, the event signified the end of the 1950s-era campus and the start of more modern times for Bernalillo High School.

The 76,000-square-foot building is two-stories high and each classroom features the latest technology. The school has motion-sensor lights and 70-inch Mondopads in every classroom. The touchscreen pads look like flat-screen televisions and perform the same functions as a personal computer, but can double as a whiteboard.

In addition, each of the school’s incoming 220 freshman were assigned an electronic notebook they will use all four years. The notebooks replace traditional textbooks. Each subsequent incoming freshman class will get new notebooks until every student in the school has one.

The district has demolished the old campus buildings, some of which were built in the 1950s. Before the new building was erected, Bernalillo High School was spread out over a large area with separate buildings. The new structure includes most of the classrooms, the administrative offices and the library.

Bernalillo High School principal Keith Cowan tries to engage Bernalillo High students at the celebration for their new school. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Bernalillo High School principal Keith Cowan tries to engage Bernalillo High students at the celebration for their new school. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“We were long overdue for a new school – not just any school, but this state-of-the-art school,” Superintendent Allan Tapia told the crowd. “But the most important thing about this building is the knowledge that will be obtained in these walls.”

The $34 million project is the first phase of renovating the campus that is home to approximately 930 students. Phase two of the project has started, and includes a new cafeteria, black box and new building for the school’s career and technical programs, including culinary arts, welding and auto shop. Only the gymnasium will remain intact when the second phase is done next August.

New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera attended the event and wished the students good luck. She called Bernalillo a unique community.

“I was excited to celebrate with them,” she said after the event. “I’ve never seen a community turn out like this.”

Even school board president Gilbert Lucero seemed surprised by the size of the gathering.

“I didn’t know it was going to be this big of an event,” he said. “A half hour ago, I was irrigating my field. Mr. Tapia told me to put on a tie, so I did.”

Cowan told the attendees the project could not have been done without the help of the entire community, and spent about 30 minutes thanking district, tribal and town officials, right down to the district’s food services manager and school resource officer, Scott Calcutt, who received the largest applause of the day. Students who were sitting at the back of the crowd on the steps to the gymnasium began screaming and cheering when his name was mentioned.

Student body president Sara Perez was the last speaker before the symbolic cutting of the ribbon. She said the new school building has bolstered school spirit.

“There is so much enthusiasm from the student body,” she said. “A fresh start is good for everyone … . I see students taking pride in their school.”

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