Jal students are getting another week of summer break.
The first day of school for Jal Public Schools was originally set for Aug. 14, but with recent developments involving the approximately $20 million Jal Elementary School project, it’s been pushed back to Aug. 21 for third-grade students to high school seniors. Kindergarten through second-grade students will start back on Aug. 28, while school staff began work on Monday. The decision to delay is due to ongoing work taking place at the elementary school, according to Jal Superintendent Brian Snider.
“The school is still on track to be ready on the 14th, but we’re getting a lot of inspections done that we think it will be more like the 21st,” he said. “The kitchen inspection, alarm system and fire systems — we’re getting all that inspected now.”
Specifically, Snider said the school currently has “temporary occupancy” for staff. A state fire marshal’s inspection is scheduled for Aug. 15 to get permanent occupancy, while the Department of Health also has to inspect the kitchen. The new competition gym isn’t ready yet due to the humidity level and installation of wood flooring, but sports activities will be held at the existing competition gym in the meantime.
“The gym has nothing to do with school opening, but now the cafeteria has to be finished and inspected,” he said. “The cafeteria has to open and operational before you can have school.”
The one-week delay equals four days since the Jal School Board adopted a four-day week schedule in April. The days will be made up on Fridays. Snider explained the four-day schedule gives Jal flexibility since normally a whole week would’ve been added at the end of the school year in May.
“The greater flexibility that the four-day week allowed us was also a good opportunity to get teachers in the building and get them accustomed to it before the students arrive,” he said. “So, the one week delay is for staff and for the students. If the staff is ready and the staff is prepared, then the students will benefit from it and so that’s what our reasoning was on that.”
Jal school board member Kayla Lujan expressed some disappointment at the delay.
“It’s a little disappointing that we didn’t get started on time, but I’m glad that we pushed school back to let the teachers and all the administrators and everything get settled in before the students (return to school),” she said.
While board president Jim Gooss said it was a decision that the superintendent and board discussed and decided there’s no reason to rush into the school, considering the weekly schedule. He said they want teachers to be be “fresh-minded,” ready and to get off on the “best foot possible.”
“The contractors and our architects have stated from the very beginning that we would be ready to open on the first day of school, August 14th,” he said. “Of course, we’re coming in — we’re sliding in at the last minute. However, again with the size of our project, it’s to be expected I think. I think they’ve done a really, really good job of keeping us on track, but we’re afforded the opportunity to give them a little bit of room. And allow our teachers to not have to start the school year off being pressed and trying to get in there and set up classrooms when they’re still doing the finishing touches on our campus.”
The high school and junior high teachers are also impacted by the changes since they’re moving from their campus into the old elementary while the high school is renovated. It’s a temporary move for the year as Snider said the schools are in agreement with the City of Jal to convert the old elementary into a community center.
“Basically, it was unprecedented in our school district for every teacher to be relocated at once,” Snider said. “So, rather than just keep the schedule as usual and everybody not be ready — I thought it would be a lot better to make the call to delay a week.”
Albuquerque-based HB Construction is handling the elementary school construction project and Snider said the building itself is “coming in pretty good” with boxes and teacher’s supplies delivered Tuesday. Snider described it at about “95 percent” completion.
“There’s still a lot to do, but the construction team’s doing a good job of handling it this week,” he said.
The new elementary school, located on Utah Avenue, is about the same size as the old building at 62,000-square-feet and includes the aforementioned competition gym. Another one of the school’s features is a planned childcare program on the first floor, called “Bright Beginnings,” made possible by the J. F Maddox Foundation and Jal schools. Snider said the program will be available to students, employees and members of the community. “It’s very well lit,” he described the new school. “It’s light colors. It’s very conducive to the student’s learning in the way that everything is set up in neighborhoods. You’ve got grade level neighborhoods — let’s say kinder and first grade and pre-K — so pre-K, Kinder and first-grade have their own library that’s built into the hallway.” The upper grades also have their own library areas and “everything is conducive” to neighborhood learning, Snider added.
“I can kind of see that in the future,” he said. “The hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)-type careers, project based learning — this building is very conducive to that and we couldn’t be happier with what we’re seeing.”
Lujan gave her opinion on the new campus and said it’s “looking awesome.”
“We did not want to rush anything though and make them hurry — just not rush through things,” she said. “We wanted them to take their time and get everything done, so everything would be perfect for the students to go back to. And with us going to a four-day school week, we’ll have to catch up on a few Fridays, but that’s nothing too big. That’s something they’re already used to.”
Gooss also shared praise for the school, calling it “wonderful and beautiful.”
“It’s everything we hoped it would be,” he said. “We have a great group — a community committee. We have great contractors. We have great architects and we have great administration who have taken the time over the last couple of years to put together a very beautiful complex. And the school is coming along very, very well.”
A construction time lapse video is available at the link: https:, which may be accessed through the schools’ website, .