A hilly sagebrush field with commanding views of Sleeping Ute Mountain will soon be transformed into the new Montezuma-Cortez high school.
The $44 million project will include a 162,000-square-foot main campus, auditoriums, athletic fields, tennis courts and parking lots on a 35-acre lot at Sligo and Seventh Streets.
A presentation Tuesday unveiled a masterpiece of design and functionality, including high-tech science labs, a second floor library with fantastic views, and an indoor/outdoor cafe-style cafeteria worthy of a metropolitan bistro.
But as always with large public works projects, the devil lies in the details, which in this case include uneven land at the building site.
“It’s a somewhat challenging site because it is hilly and so square,” said Julie Walleisa, presenter for the design firm Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, of Albuquerque. “It is a 40-foot drop from one end to the other.”
The limiting nature of the site has forced the school district to scale back the project. As a result, two ball fields are being left out of the plan because of the expensive engineering costs to build massive retaining walls and terraces to fit them in.
“The softball and baseball fields are not in the plan,” said Re-1 Superintendent Alex Carter. “Those teams will continue to use the excellent facilities available to them now in the city parks.”
As a possible solution, the school district is looking into purchasing a 13-acre parcel to the east of the new high school to accommodate the two fields.
“I know it is not perfect, but I am not willing to sacrifice classrooms in order to pay for the retaining walls,” Carter said. “There could be potential to buy adjacent land for those facilities.”
Tyson Nunn, a contractor for the project, said “The dirt work and retaining walls can run into the hundreds of thousands. It gets pricey fast and you end up spending money on dirt instead of building. There is a reason you don’t see too many terraced sites.”
Designers said that rather than fight the different elevations, they worked with the slopes in the design. Practice and playing fields will step down, and the main stadium and track will be recessed into a hillside.
“The main competition field will be tucked into a bowl and the seating will utilize the hillside,” Walleisa said. “Above it all will be the school on top of a rise.”
The building roughly resembles the shape of an abstract crab, with two-story classroom wings on either side of a large entrance courtyard that leads to the main body, which will house the auditorium, performance halls and gyms. The funneled entrance is a security feature.
“After the school day begins, the doors automatically lock,” Carter said. “The entrance design is the only open access and allows for a lot of eyes to monitor who comes in and out of the building.”
“Will there be lockers?” asked an audience member, in response to earlier suggestions the school might do away with them.
“That was an idea, but we couldn’t figure out a way to store student belongings and jackets so there will be 300 lockers,” Carter said.
He is especially enthusiastic about the library, which will be on the second story with views of Sleeping Ute Mountain through large windows.
“We want to build a school beyond just a school for us,” Carter said. “We envision holding meetings and events in a comfortable setting for the community as well.”
The building is designed to accommodate 725 students and additional classrooms can be added on. Last year, 625 students attended the school.
Officials emphasized using local subcontractors during the project.
“This is a small community, so it is important to use local contractors as much as possible,” said Re-1 board member Brian Demby.
Tyson Nunn, of Nunn Construction, assured the board that would be done.
“We will be going for local subcontractors. It is part of the project requirements, and it’s what we will do.”
Follow the project’s progress at www.dpsdesign.org/mchs