FARMINGTON — Voters are deciding whether to approve an estimated $50 million bond issue to fund Farmington school-improvement projects.

Early voting continues today at the San Juan County Clerk's Office. Election Day is Aug. 31.

The $50 million bond would fund construction of a new Tibbetts Middle School that would be built near Twin Peaks Boulevard and Troy King Road.

The bond money cannot be used to pay salaries and taxes would not increase if the bond is approved, Farmington Superintendent Janel Ryan said.

However, the school district acknowledges taxes likely would decrease if the bond issue fails.

Tibbetts, built on Apache Road as a high school in 1941, is the oldest building in the Farmington School District and needs money for improvements to keep the building operational, said James Barfoot, assistant superintendent for operations.

The more than 500 students who attend Tibbetts are crammed into the seven-acre parcel of land, he said.

"It's time for us to decide if we should consider putting money into Tibbetts or replace it with a new building," he said.

Three places inside the school leak when it rains, there is little space outside to park or drop off children and the hallways squeak when the students walk down them, said Tibbetts principal Karen Brown.

But more important, she said, a new school would be safer. Additions to the current school have spread out classrooms, and the administrative offices are in the middle of the building. The entrances lead to hallways and classrooms.

"To me that's a concern because as much as we try, we need to make sure those children are supervised," Brown said.

The new Tibbetts would be built on a 40- to 50-acre plot of 300 acres of land the school district obtained from the Bureau of Land Management in 1960, Barfoot said.

The new location would not change where Tibbetts students come from, because most students are bussed to school from as many as 50 miles away, Barfoot said.

The new school would cost an estimated $35 million. The school district would spend $15 million from the bond and apply to the state Public School Capital Outlay Council for around $20 million.

Farmington schools would spread the rest of the $50 million bond throughout the district for other projects, such as replacing the turf and track at Hutchison Stadium and repairing the roof and parking lot at Piedra Vista High School.

The state council matches money the Farmington School District spends for school-improvement projects 59 percent to 41 percent. But the matching money is not guaranteed.

"You just have to take your chances," Barfoot said. "We've gone to the state for several (school improvement-projects) and were always able to get funding."

Odds are good the state would match the funds if the public OKs the bond, Barfoot said. The $50 million bond is part of a $150 million master plan already approved by the Public Education Department, and the state provided nearly $1 million to hire an architect to start making plans for the new school, Barfoot said.

If matching funds for Tibbetts are not approved, how the district would spend the $50 million would be up to the Board Of Education, Barfoot said.

If all goes well, Tibbetts would be used for another three years until the new school is built, Barfoot said. By then, he believes the state would ask the school district to get rid of the old Tibbetts school and not put any more money into the building.

"We need that middle school," Barfoot said. "Old is old and seven acres is seven acres."

Ryan Boetel: rboetel@daily-times.com