Officials eyeball capital outlay requests

Marlena Hartz : Freedom Newspapers

State legislators climbed aboard a school bus Friday morning to learn more about a Clovis Municipals Schools funding request. School board members and school officials are requesting capital outlay funds for the creation of a performing arts building at the Bella Vista Elementary School campus.

School officials estimate it would cost $2 million to build.

The request was spurred by the upcoming merger of Bella Vista with Lincoln-Jackson Arts Academy, a move the school board approved in November. Precipitated by budget concerns, the merger will save the district money, but it will also allow more children to experience the nationally acclaimed Lincoln-Jackson arts-infused education, said Clovis Municipals Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm.

Eastern New Mexico’s six district representatives spent about 20 minutes at Lincoln-Jackson Arts Academy and drove by the proposed performing arts building site, located on the west side of the Bella Vista campus, which Seidenwurm said has ample space for expansion.

But the school, along with Lincoln-Jackson, is lacking internally in some areas, according to school officials. There is not enough space for large arts performances at either campus, said Lincoln-Jackson Arts Academy Principal Shelly Norris.

“We hold most of our big performances in collaboration with the Clovis Community College because we just don’t have the space. Our kids (often) have to sit on the floor,” Norris said.

Bella Vista staff and students are also forced to be flexible, utilizing one space as a gymnasium, a cafeteria, and a meeting center for school events. Parents voiced concerns that the Bella Vista campus could not accommodate a united Bella Vista and Lincoln-Jackson student and parent body during autumn merger discussions.

Operation of the combined school is possible, but a performing arts building would boost curriculum, said sixth-grade Lincoln-Jackson teacher Chris Harrell.

“If we can bring (curriculum) to the stage…, if we can take it to that level, if a student can act out the phases of the moon, then that to me is teaching. This will help us do that for a big amount of kids,” Harrell said.

School officials said the building could be used by all district schools for a variety of purposes.

District representatives did not downplay the need for the building, but also made no public funding commitments to school officials, as funding requests are manifold and varied, said Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis.

“There are more wants and needs than there is money to fulfill them,” Crook said.

Rep. Jose Campos, D-Santa Rosa, said the project would bring many benefits.

“This issue is very important when we look at the whole community. We need to educate our low socio-economic individuals so they can take advantage of opportunities,” Campos said.

Clovis Municipal Schools Director of Operations Gene Beiker said if funding is received the project could begin in the spring of 2007.