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KIRTLAND — Parents, students and community members got the opportunity to tour the new $20 million Judy Nelson Elementary School in Kirtland today before the school opens next month.

Central Consolidated School District and Judy Nelson staff members presented the orientation event to help students from kindergarten through sixth grade adjust to their new surroundings. The students have been housed at the old Grace B. Wilson Elementary School while the new school was being built.

Teachers and students will start classes in the new school on Tuesday, Jan. 3 following the winter break.

The new elementary school includes about 95,000 square feet and is built on the site of the old Ruth N. Bond Elementary School, which was demolished last year. It was designed to replace both the Grace B. Wilson and Ruth N. Bond elementary schools.

During the orientation, students toured the school and were eager to see their new classrooms.

Fifth-grader Quinn Sandoval said she liked the new school and was excited to move into the new building.

Principal Steve Carlson said he was happy for the teachers to have state-of-the-art technology in their classrooms. He was also taken back by how large the school is.

The 40 classrooms in the school will house about 715 students.

"The building, when you walk in, it's cavernous," Carlson said. "It's beautiful. It's almost overwhelming."

In her new classroom, fifth-grade teacher Tammie Yazzie said she was excited for her students to use the new electronic dry-erase whiteboards. The boards can be operated using a fingertip, similar to a tablet or smartphone.

"I think it's great. The kids definitely deserve a new environment that is up to date with technology," Yazzie said.

Waynette Danley, CCSD construction specialist, said the contractor FCI Constructors handed over the building to the district on Nov. 15, and the district staff conducted the final walk-through of the school earlier today.

Construction on the new building is complete, but work will continue on a portion of the old Ruth N. Bond building that was not demolished. A wing of the old school housing the gymnasium and music rooms was incorporated into the new building. Renovations, including replacing plumbing in the restrooms and installing new carpet in the music room, are expected to be complete by the end of the year.

Parent Candace Johnson welcomed the new area to drop off and pick up students, stating it felt more safe than the current area used by parents.

The school was originally scheduled to open in August for the start of the current school year. But funding from the New Mexico Public School Facilities Authority to help pay for the new school was delayed for several months in 2015, according to CCSD spokesman James Preminger.

The PSFA is funding 69 percent of the $20 million project while the district pays for the remaining 31 percent.

A small ceremony was held during the orientation with interim Superintendent Colleen Bowman welcoming families to the building. Dennis Fieldsted, CCSD building and construction coordinator, thanked the staff of FCI Constructors and design firm Dekker/Perich/Sabatini for their work on the project.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.

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