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Work underway on new West Side school

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A 110-acre field of dirt on Albuquerque’s western edge will soon become an innovative school for kindergarten through eighth grade.

District administrators broke ground for the new $50-million facility Tuesday morning as heavy equipment chugged in the background.

“The West Side really needs this,” said Scott Elder, Albuquerque Public Schools interim chief operations officer. “They have seen exponential growth.”

The still unnamed school on Tierra Pintada Boulevard is designed to alleviate overcrowded classrooms and provide a collaborative learning environment – students at all grade levels will share a gym, cafeteria and multimedia center.

The 245,000-square-foot facility is slated to open in summer 2018, accommodating up to 1,600 kids in 74 classrooms.

Albuquerque voters funded the project in February’s $575 million bond and mill levy election, which was approved by a wide margin.

Kizito Wijenje, executive director of the APS Capital Master Plan, thanked taxpayers for their support.

“The public can see that we keep our promises,” Wijenje said.

Bond money will also fund a second new school that will be built nearby. The $8.4-million Family School West Side is modeled on the popular Desert Willow Family School, which offers a mix of classroom time and home-based instruction.

In the coming years, more schools will crop up in the area.

Enrollment is booming on the West Side, thanks to an influx of young families, while enrollment in the east side of the city is in decline.

Last summer, the district consolidated Acoma Elementary and Oñate Elementary in the northeast after student numbers dwindled to roughly 100 at each school.

Wijenje said he is looking for more land on the West Side to plan for the future.

“The only way we can do this is as one district,” he added, referencing a legislative bill that would divide APS into three units, a move designed to boost accountability to the public.

Currently, the district has roughly 85,000 students and 12,000 employees in 141 schools scattered across nearly 1,200 square miles.

But Wijenje argued that the district’s large size is a strength.

“We have a diverse tax base,” he said. “If you break up the tax base, you limit our ability to build.”