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Sep 21, 2017

Metro El Paso's Booming Socorro Independent School District Pushing Bond for Unprecedented Variety of Construction and Renovation Projects

How much is the Socorro Independent School District growing?

Consider this: just a little over a decade ago, the district, which includes the cities of Socorro and Horizon, as well as parts of East El Paso, had an enrollment of a little over 30,000.

Today, notes Thomas Eyeington, those numbers are at more than 46,400, with internal district projections forecasting another jump to nearly 49,000 students in the next eight years.

“The growth is coming from everywhere,” says Eyeington, chief operations officer for the district.

“We’ve been getting many students because of Fort Bliss,” he says. “Because we pride ourselves on being a district of choice, we also get people who move here just because of our academic standards and innovation.”

Socorro has additionally done well winning students from other parts of El Paso, with test scores that are generally higher than the other districts in the metro area.

All of this growth means one thing: Socorro needs to put up new buildings and expand existing ones in order to keep pace.

In a message to district voters, Jose Espinoza, SISD school superintendent, noted that as of today, “SISD schools are at 104 percent capacity district wide.”

With continued growth, Espinoza added, “SISD schools will be at 112 percent capacity by 2027.”

“I liken it to when you first venture out on your own and your first apartment is maybe a one-bedroom apartment,” recently remarked Michael Najero, a member of the Independent School District Board of Trustees, as he talked about need to respond to the ever-increasing enrollment.

“Then maybe you have your first child and you’ve got a two-bedroom apartment, and then eventually you have more kids and that two-bedroom apartment just doesn’t fit anymore,” Najero continued.

“That is where we are,” he added. “But it’s not two kids, it’s 46,000 of them.”

After months of community input, board trustees recently voted unanimously in favor of presenting voters with a $448.5 million bond for this November’s election that district officials say will not only result in more capacity, but will add space to a number of existing schools.

Among the more ambitious projects that will be paid for by the bond is the $135 million reconstruction of the existing Socorro High School; $95 million in improvements to the Montwood High School; $30 million in improvements to El Dorado High School; and another $25 million in improvements to Americas High School.

The Socorro High School work, says Eyeington, “will reconstruct that facility into an entirely new 21st century learning environment.” It will also allow the district to purchase property adjacent to the school to build additional ingress and egress to the campus.

The Montwood, El Dorado, and Americas school construction will include exterior improvements, interior enhancements, structural additions, and mechanical system upgrades.

“All three of those facilities are almost 20 years old,” notes Eyeington, “and, of course, our flagship school, Socorro High, is about 50 years old.”

But perhaps no aspect of the bond-funded projects represents SISD’s growth as much as the plans for two new middle schools, and an elementary school, on the east side of the district.

“We are growing there at a rate of roughly 700 students a year over the last three years, which includes this year,” says Eyeington.

Included in that east side explosion is the Pebble Hills neighborhood. Last year, a study conducted by consultant VLK Architects said that the district needed to build two more elementary schools to keep up with the growth.

"We have one under construction there as we speak,” reports Eyeington, “and we will be building another one if the bond passes.”

District-wide, the bond will also fund the $20 million construction of some sixteen new multipurpose rooms.

“Those rooms will all be added to existing facilities,” explains Eyeington. “Our new schools are designed to incorporate multipurpose rooms, which can be used for physical education or other education classes.”

But sixteen of the older schools in the district lack such rooms, a deficit that the bond will correct.

SISD officials are conducting a series of community meetings this fall designed to raise voter awareness on the need for the big $448.5 million bond.

Those same officials are hoping that what happened the last time the district asked for a bond will prove a precursor to this election. That was in 2011, when voters by a nearly two-to-one margin approved a $297 million bond. 

 

By Garry Boulard

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