Serving the High Plains

Middle school building may be torn down

Four possible updates to Tucumcari Public Schools' five-year facilities master plan would lead to the tearing down of its middle school due to stagnant enrollment and underused buildings.

TPS held a community meeting last Monday in the Mesa Cafeteria to discuss possible options for the district. About 30 people - many of them district employees or administrators - attended.

Susan Miller, a senior director of strategic consulting for Ohio-based Woolpert, led the meeting. She said her company was still taking ideas for the facilities master plan and likely would present them to the school board during its regular May meeting.

Though the four options presented met with some skepticism or dismay, one proposal voiced by a TPS steering committee member was greeted with intrigue. Miller said that idea would undergo a cost analysis.

Miller said the district's total enrollment in the last 10 years remained steady at about 920, save for a decline during the COVID-19 pandemic that was experienced by many schools nationwide. She said projected enrollment in 2033 would remain about the same.

She said TPS facilities have an average utilization rate of about 35%, well under the ideal range of 85% to 100%. TPS' rate is projected to rise only to 37% by 2033. Current TPS facilities can handle about 2,600 students.

Though the district has maintained its buildings well, Miller said all of them need fixes. That's especially the middle school, which opened in 1949 with additions or renovations in 1970, 1972, 1980 and 1996. The elementary school was built in 1998, and the high school in 2012.

Miller said a consolidation of TPS facilities would reduce costs and make the district more responsible with taxpayer dollars.

The first option would be to demolish the middle school. Students there would be moved to the high school, along with the construction of one new building there. The total cost of that plan, which include minor renovations to the other schools, would be $43 million, with a district cost of $14 million.

Miller said the first option found the most favor from the district's 14-member steering committee. The plan would raise the district's utilization rate to 50%.

The second option would be to demolish the middle school, with the elementary school serving students from prekindergarten through eighth grade. The elementary and high schools would undergo minor renovations. The cost would be $45 million with a district cost of $15 million. The utilization rate also would rise to 50%.

The third option would be to demolition the core building at the middle school and construct a new one next to the cafeteria and middle-school gym. The other schools would undergo minor renovations. That total cost would be $69 million, with a $22 million district share. The utilization rate would rise to 45%.

The fourth and most expensive option would be to demolish the elementary and middle schools and build a shared campus at the elementary school site. The high school would undergo minor renovations. The total cost would be $95 million, with a $30 million cost to the district. The utilization rate would rise to 61%.

More details about the options and other information can be found at

Several people said adding to Tucumcari Elementary may not be the best option. Carlos Romero, a former board president, said TES was "trouble when it was first built" about 20 years ago. The school sits on unstable soil, causing ongoing structural problems.

Current school board President Heather Gonzales questioned how the company properly assessed building district utilization in July, when no students were there.

Others said they don't want a plan where seventh- and eighth-graders are with high-school students. They said they were worried such an arrangement might exacerbate behavioral issues.

Former teacher Sue Dowell said "it was like (the district) got penalized" for building nice facilities over the decades.

"These buildings should be grandfathered in," she said, adding the utilization formula benefits larger districts more than smaller ones.

"I understand the frustration. I do," Miller responded. "I don't have an answer."

One of the steering committee members, Dana Benavidez, said she has taught classes at all three school buildings. She advocated moving sixth-graders to the elementary school and remodeling the middle school as the most cost-effective option.

Miller said Benavidez should propose that option in the survey, and it would be analyzed for its costs and effectiveness.

Others pointed out a large vacant lot owned by the district east of the middle school - formerly the site of the Granger Elementary School - that could be used to build a new school.

Residents who want to weigh in on the proposals or present ideas can fill out an online survey at The surveys will be accepted through the end of this week.

Quay County manager Daniel Zamora asked about the district's bonding capacity. He said he was unsure whether more expensive options were fiscally realistic.

"Can we afford to match $30 million to build a new middle school?" he asked.

Near the end of the meeting, Gonzales said she preferred preserving as many of the district buildings as possible.

"When things go away, they tend not to come back," she said.

After the meeting, Miller said the discussions weren't contentious compared to the hundreds of others she's presided over.

"This has been great because not only did they come with concerns, but they came with ideas. It wasn't just a whole bunch of naysayers," she said.

"I think people here really want the best for their kids, and change can be hard and disconcerting. But you can't keep spending money on buildings that are getting older."