RIO RANCHO, N.M. — A group of Bernalillo High students huddled around a table, discussing how to weld two pieces of metal to build a storage rack. The shop is large and state of the art, with tall bay doors and a new fume extractor system.
It’s a big upgrade compared to the metal container that housed the school’s welding program last year.
“This is really cool,” said Raekwon Yepa, a junior who plans to become a welder after graduation. “There is a lot more space and equipment.”
Yepa is one of 820 Bernalillo High students benefitting from a new 43,000-square-foot career technical education building and cafeteria that opened in August. The facility houses vocational programs like welding, construction, auto mechanics and agriculture, along with a black box theater and gourmet restaurant managed by culinary arts students.
It’s the last piece in a $34.6 million total rebuild of the school, which had been made up of a mishmash of aging structures, some dating back to the 1950s, at 560 S. Camino del Pueblo.
A year ago, crews completed the main classroom building, a 76,000-square-foot, two-story space that also includes the library, administrative offices and a commons area.
Superintendent Allan Tapia compared the airy, modern facilities to a small college.
“The school was due for a total makeover,” he said.
Students are taking pride in the campus, according to Principal Keith Cowan, who said he has noticed them wiping down cafeteria tables and picking up trash.
“School spirit is at an all-time high,” Cowan added. “I think it has a direct impact on learning when they like where they are.”
Beyond the attractive setting, Bernalillo High is also safer thanks to a new electronic entry system that allows staff to buzz in visitors at the main building.
Other high-tech upgrades include 70-inch touchscreen pads in each classroom and electronic notebooks for all incoming freshmen.
In the new career technical education building, the black box theater features high-end lighting and sound systems – plus a direct route to the construction shop where students can build sets.
“With all the new technology, we can make magic happen for all of our audiences and get these kids careers based off this building and what we can teach them,” said theater teacher Brandon Gilliard.
The upgrades were funded by bond money and Bernalillo Public Schools has more plans in the works.
In February, the district will seek voter approval to sell another $18 million to $20 million in bonds to cover a variety of projects, including completion of Santo Domingo Elementary/Middle School, a library remodel at Bernalillo Middle School and a performing arts center for the high school. Bond sales do not raise property taxes, although they will fall if the election fails.
“I want to thank the taxpayers for their support,” Tapia said. “Kids are the beneficiaries of all this construction.”