LOS LUNAS — School of Dreams Academy is one step closer to turning their dream of an expanded, permanent facility into a reality.
At a Los Lunas Village Council meeting on May 11, the mayor and councilors unanimously voted for the village to enter into a memorandum of agreement with the School of Dreams Educational Foundation. The agreement provides a pre-development timeline for SODA to seek financing of a permanent facility at its current location on Juan Perea Road, as well as 10 acres of village-owned property directly south of SODA on the same plot of land.
Erin Callahan, the Los Lunas community development director, said the village has been pursuing some sort of development for the southern 10 acres.
In December 2022, they were leaning toward granting the land to a company seeking to build affordable housing on the property, but SODA Superintendent Mike Ogas stepped in expressing great interest and need for the property.
Ogas, citing safety and traffic concerns, said the development of affordable housing there could prove to be a detriment to the charter school. He asked the village to give them time to develop a facility master plan that incorporates the full 20.5 acres and time to locate funding sources.
“We’re not amending a lease purchase agreement yet,” said Callahan. “But (the memorandum) gives them a period of time to know we are not seeking other development on the property, and they can move forward and try to get financed for full facility development of the full 20.5 acres.”
The MOA gave SODA 12 months to have the financing and facility plan in order, but Ogas asked the council if they could amend the agreement to instead allow them 18 months instead.
The reason why, Ogas said, is because a lot of their potential financing is dependent on the New Mexico Public Schools Facility Authority, and the score they will receive from them regarding the need for a new facility. However, this score will not be released until December. Ogas said this ranking is critical because those with the lowest rankings have the best chance for funding.
Funding looking favorable for SODA
“They rank every school in the state with a New Mexico Condition Index score to show the amount of need for new facilities or renovations. When we first started, our NMCI ranking was in the 900s, when we moved to our new site our ranking was in the 400s because it was a fairly new, remodeled facility,” Ogas said.
“Over the years, the portables have started to show their wear. So during the pandemic, we asked them to come out and reevaluate the school,” said Ogas. “The PSFA said our ranking is extremely favorable. When the new rankings come out in December, we should be ranked one or very close to one.”
The PSFA considers another score as well for new facility need, the facility condition index. Ogas said, “if you rank over 60, you basically need a new school and right now we’re at 83.”
Should the charter school be granted funding from PSFA, which they are relying on to be their major funding source, they will need to contribute a match. Ogas said the signing of Senate Bill 131 in the most recent legislative session will be a big help in this endeavor, as the bill takes away the offset and reduces the match to make the cost more attainable for charter schools and smaller school districts.
“This coupled with the NMCI and FCI score being more favorable to our application gives us probably the best shot we’ve ever had to get a full in-ground facility on campus,” Ogas said.
Los Lunas Mayor Charles Griego said the concern the council has is moving expeditiously, but he’s aware the state is looking favorably upon the project and that 18 months instead of 12 is not unreasonable, given the nature and size of the project.
Ogas said they are also working on pursuing private funding to fill in any gaps, and assured the council that they will submit their application to the PSFA immediately after the updated scores are released.
The council unanimously voted to amend the MOA to allow 18 months, but they expect an update in 12 months.
SODA’s initial facility master plan, which incorporated the 10 acres they’re currently residing on, had a cost of about $65 million. They are currently in the process of revising the facility plan to incorporate the full 20.5 acres, so an updated total cost has not been determined yet.
Pre-k facility award
SODA was also awarded almost $5 million from the PSFA over a year ago to build a permanent pre-k facility. However, Ogas said this could conflict with their application for the entire school.
“In the past, the PSFA has not funded two projects at once so that’s why we put a hold on what we’re going to do with the pre-k money. We may need to rescind it and roll it into the bigger application,” Ogas said.
At the May 11 meeting, Ogas said new information came to light though that may allow them to keep the award while moving the full-facility project forward.
“We learned that SODA is a school district, and elementary, middle and high school all have a separate NMCI index, so we’ll talk more with PSFA and say ‘if that’s the case can we start the pre-k building?’ because we already have an award,” said Ogas.
The superintendent said they would like to have the revised master plan together by August and an idea of what direction they’re going to take with the pre-k facility award.
“The main thing is our kids deserve a facility that they can flourish in that’s designed around our current STEAM school model,” said Ogas. “The school has worked hard over the years, the kids deserve it, the faculty and families deserve it and the community deserves what we promised we’d try and build.”
Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.