Rejects plans to renovate BJJH building

Christopher Maher, Jim Wells County Correspondent

The San Diego Independent School District Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to approve plans for the construction of a completely new elementary school for the district, and officials hope to have the school operational by 2009.

In a 7-0 vote, the board selected a design presented last week for a new school to be constructed, instead of a plan to renovate the old Bernarda Jaime Junior High School.

Board President Javier Solis said building a new school was the best plan for the community.

"I think everyone was geared toward a new school, and the community was expecting it as well," Solis said. "After looking at the designs, I think this is something that's newer and is going to take us a lot further into the future, 30 or 40 years down the road."

Under the approved plan, designed by architect firm Kell Munoz, the abandoned Bernarda Jaime Junior High School will be completely demolished, and the new school will be constructed on the site.

The centerpiece of that facility will be a courtyard with an outdoor amphitheater, as well as a tree-lined "history walk" leading up to the school.

The new construction will provide about 78,000 square feet at a cost of $11,710,275.

The board rejected an option in which the district would have renovated the old Bernarda Jaime Junior High School, with little new construction. That option would have produced a school with 88,000 square feet, at a cost of $10,717,786.

Superintendent Luis Pizzini agreed with Soliz that the additional cost for a completely new school was minor compared to the long-term benefits to the district.

"The difference between the renovation and the brand new school is what changed their minds," Pizzini said. "We're getting a brand new building, as opposed to renovating an extremely old building that contains asbestos, mold and lead."

Construction on the new school could begin as early as March 2008 and be completed in March 2009, Pizzini said. Pizzini also stressed that all design plans and prices could change before construction begins.

In other business Wednesday, the board voted 5-2 to approve a relaxation of the school's dress code for activities that occur after school hours.

Under the new rules, during after-school functions students will be permitted to wear denim shorts that come to the knee, sandals and collared shirts that are not part of the normal school uniform.

Those rules apply only for students at non-UIL events or competitions and go into effect immediately.

Board member Librada Vela voted in favor of relaxing the rules.

She said she agreed with parents like Isabelle Garcia, who spoke in favor of relaxing the dress code at the beginning of the meeting. Following the meeting Vela said she wanted to allow "kids to be kids."

"They wear the uniform all week, which is fine. I don't think we changed it drastically, but enough that they can change their dress, feel comfortable about it and not be out of bounds of our dress code," Vela said.

"It's relaxed casual, but they're still going to look nice."

Board President Solis and board member Rafael Saenz were the only members to vote against the item.

Solis said he voted against relaxing the rules in part because of the comments of two high school teachers who spoke at the beginning of the meeting and said that relaxing the rules would result in a lack of discipline.

"I think the administrators made a strong point that it's another control method. (The students) are easily seen, and they can differentiate between them. Even just controlling them at a football game, it's easier to see them, they're more visible and easier to get ahold of and discipline," Solis said.

"If we start making changes now, it's just going to relax more and more, and I think discipline is always an issue."