With election in past, officials continue work on two new schools
TODD BAILEY | NEWS-SUN
With a 72 percent approval rating from voters on a $30 million bond question, Hobbs Municipal School officials are back at work in creating two new schools.
But don’t expect to see ground breaking any time soon.
Actual plans on the new career technical education building and a replacement school for 69-year-old Southern Heights Elementary are still months away. Both schools have a planned opening of August 2022. Construction time, based solely on square footage, looks to be 16-18 months for the 100,000-square-foot CTE building and a possible 12-14 months for a smaller Southern Heights.
Although architects have created drawings for the CTE building’s outer shell, that’s all they are. Neither schools have definite plans drawn up for how each will look. The actual design phase of the CTE is a 6-9 month window. What was needed next to continue required a monetary investment, one the school district and other capital partners were reluctant to make. Which is why plans came to a halt about a month before the Nov. 5 election. Project administrators felt they were at a good pause point from any additional preparations until they got the official OK from voters.
“We didn’t want to be too presumptuous,” said Gene Strickland, HMS Asst. Superintendent of Operations. Strickland will be at the forefront of the building process for both projects. “We wanted to make sure that our community was behind the bond question and wanted to make sure the appropriate planning had gone into the creation of a career technical center. So it was very intentional on putting the brakes on what we have, and what we have is good, but we just didn’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.”
Not only for the chance the bond question failed, but also to make sure the direction project leaders was correct. Because of the construction schedule at the time, Strickland said the process was moving quickly, almost too quickly.
“We just didn’t want to miss anything,” Strickland said. “That’s when a decision was made with the capital partners to say ‘let’s back up’ and allow the election to happen and further inform us as a community as to where we are.”
Even though Hobbs schools originated the idea for a CTE school and it appears to be the face of the project, Strickland was adamant that nothing gets done without the complete support of the capital partners, which are investing around $30 million of the $46 million project. Those partners include the City of Hobbs ($10 million), Permian Strategic Partnership ($10 million) JF Maddox Foundation ($10 million) and Lea County ($900,000). The project also received $337,000 in additional funding from the New Mexico Legislature.
What’s been done
Following about a year of meetings with community members, leaders, and oil and gas industry leaders executives, HMS found the CTE architect in Stantec, an international professional services company in the design and consulting industry.
Through several meetings between Stantec officials and school personnel, not to mention a city-wide survey in 2018, a consensus of six career pathways was chosen for the CTE to initially offer — manufacturing, energy, construction and architecture, transportation, culinary arts and hospitality and information technology.
“That’s is what’s guiding a lot of our selection moving forward,” Strickland said. “The overall design done by the architects in creating a rendering of the building is nothing more than a building shell. We don’t have any finishes selected. We don’t have any interior spaces selected. All (the renderings) gives us is what a 100,000-square-foot building could look like.”
So what happens now?
By identifying the six career pathways, CTE project managers have cast their wide net. Now comes the process of sifting through what they have. That means more meetings with the community user groups. The idea is to hone in on the curriculum options each pathway offers and what classes are going into the new school.
It hasn’t been mentioned much but Hobbs High School is already knee-deep in CTE education. Currently there are 77 classes taking place on the campus, offering some education into the six chosen career pathways. That is where the user groups will start.
“We aren’t starting from scratch, we already have those programs in place,” Strickland said. “But identifying which programs need to move into the new facility and which spaces at Hobbs High we need to remodel to accommodate those classes that won’t be moving into the CTE is something the user groups will have to look at and decide.”
Strickland said those user-group meetings with Stantec architects will start this week.
“The industry folks that we have participating gives us, as educators, the opportunity to sit back and listen to their needs,” Strickland said. “They can tell us what they need their new employees to be able to do. If we are talking about an 18-year-old who just graduated, we will listen to them telling us what that graduate needs to be able to do when he or she comes to work for an oil company.”
How long are the user group meetings planned for? There isn’t a timeline to determine that.
“We will continue to work with the capital partners to determine what is important,” Strickland said. “We want to make sure of the quality of programming going into the facility.”
With the current designs being just an outside shell, changes will most likely take place as the curriculum begins to focus.
“Everything is on paper,” Strickland said. “In terms of digital design, it’s all in a computer and can be changed or modified. If the need arises to change this outside shell for efficiency reasons, maybe that footprint of the building grows in one area and shrinks in an other area. Then you would see the affects of that image that we already have. What design we have for the CTE is just a fluid model.”
In the spring, Strickland said HMS will start advertising for a CTE director. Strickland added that person “will be crucial” in the curriculum development. Defining what type of a person to fill that position is also being discussed. Should this person have an educational background or an industry background? Preferably both.
“Ideally you don’t want this person to be the master of one single aspect,” Strickland said. “We want that individual to have a broad skill set, who is educational, but also has experience in the oil and gas industry. Another component for this person is being community-minded to Hobbs and the community of Lea County in a regional aspect. We are not a metro-plex. This is really a community partnership and have that willingness to be a part of our community as the CTE director.”
Strickland made clear that the capital partners will play a larger role than writing a check to help pay for the CTE.
“They are going to be crucial actors inside this entire process,” Strickland said. “They are part of the design team. This is not a Hobbs Schools facility. It is a facility for our community.”
What about Southern Heights?
What will be a Hobbs Schools facility is the new Southern Heights Elementary. Funding for the $30 million building comes from the $15 million approved in the bond question and $15.4 million from the New Mexico Public School Facility Authority. The NMPSFA currently pays for 56 percent of a qualified school’s construction.
But what will Southern Heights look like? Hobbs Municipal Schools currently owns the blueprints to Broad-moor Elementary and Murray Elementary. The idea is to have Southern Heights look “similar” to those schools with a two-story design.
While the initial plan is to open the new Southern Heights in August of 2022, Strickland said that schedule could be altered. The plan is to build the school at the current location where the original sits, in a construction plan identical to Broadmoor’s. The new Southern Heights would be built on a different spot on the school grounds including new parking and playground areas. Once complete and in use, the 69-year-old school would be torn down.
“Southern Heights is going to follow a different project schedule from the CTE,” Strickland said. “The primary purpose behind that is we have a different capital partner with the State of New Mexico. So their project process looks differently than what it would look for us locally.”
Strickland said school district officials have been in contact with the NMPSFA and told them of the district’s intent to use the designs from Broad-moor and Murray elementaries, “from an operational efficiency standpoint” into Southern Heights. Representatives with NMPSFA understand and are receptive to those intentions. It’s now up to the school district to go through the proper channels, meaning the selection process for an architect.
“We’ve known that all along,” Strickland said. “We can’t build a facility without an architect. That’s what those folks do, it’s their skillset. We will go through that RFP (Request for Proposal) process. We will get that started in the next 60 days and hopefully have a design professional selected sometime after that. Once that takes place a project schedule will be created.”
Even though the school district owns the blueprints for Broadmoor and Murray, they were drawn for those specific sites. Strickland said the need for a designer is because the Southern Heights location is different from the other two schools. Murray’s location was long-shaped, while Broad-moor’s shape was more egg-shaped. There are seven streets that connect to the Southern Heights site, which has more of a tear drop shape.
“The site is going to inform our design, ultimately,” Strickland said. “Whatever that site condition is, soils-wise, pre-exisiting conditions that we have not had to deal with for the past 70 years … those are things we have to go through with the design professional to select the best footing and foundation based upon that two-story design.”
It’s too early to know when a ground-breaking will take place or how long the construction project will be. Strickland estimated it could be around 12-14 months.
“Using Broadmoor as an example, it has a smaller footprint than Murray,” he said. “The difference in those two facilities, compared to Southern Heights, we used a different construction method. We use a construction manager at-risk method, where we hired the contractor in the middle of the design process. We may use that same process for Southern Heights, which could accelerate that construction schedule.”
Strickland said a traditional construction method could be where the school would be designed, then go out to bid for a construction manager to get the best price available based on proposals and then the school would be built.
“That decision we will make is in conjunction with NMPSFA as a project team,” Strickland said. “There is so much preparation that needs to be done now before we can even think about breaking out the shovels. But we know now that day is coming.”