CCSD officials tout potential impact of newly built housing developments

Twin projects result in construction of 15 new houses for district educators

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • CCSD officials and others celebrated the completion of the two district-built and -owned projects on the afternoon of Aug. 5.
  • The Mesa Heights subdivision contains 10 houses − two three-bedroom units and eight two-bedroom units.
  • The other subdivision contains five houses − two three-bedroom units and three two-bedroom units.

FARMINGTON − Officials at the Central Consolidated School District hope that a pair of new, small housing developments that opened this weekend in Shiprock will serve as a game changer for the district's efforts to recruit and retain teachers.

CCSD officials and others celebrated the completion of the two district-built and -owned projects on the afternoon of Aug. 5 with a pair of dedication ceremonies. The first ceremony took place at the development adjacent to CCSD headquarters, while the second ceremony took place at the development near Mesa Elementary School.

Candice Thompson, the district's director of operations, said the Mesa Heights subdivision contains 10 houses − two three-bedroom units and eight two-bedroom units. The other subdivision, the one located next to district headquarters, contains five houses − two three-bedroom units and three two-bedroom units.

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She emphasized that the homes are standalone structures, not duplexes. The three-bedroom homes are 1,354 square feet each, while the two-bedroom homes are 1,052 square feet. Each of them will be rented to a district educator.

The money to pay for the homes came from the state government's Impact Aid awards system. Thompson said CCSD received two such awards with money earmarked for the housing projects, one totaling $3.8 million and another coming to $4.8 million.

Jeff Cillessen, left, of contractor the B&M Cillessen Construction Co. and CCSD board member Gary Montoya chat during a dedication ceremony for a new housing subdivision in Shiprock on Aug. 5.

The money paid not only for the construction of the housing, but for the cost of infrastructure and site acquisition, as well, Thompson said.

Gary Montoya, a member of the CCSD board for the last three years, said the completion of the two projects is proof that district officials are committed to moving forward and making improvements.

"I believe this is indicative of that," he said.

Like many other rural districts around the state, CCSD long has had problems recruiting and retaining teachers to fill its classroom vacancies because it lacks adequate housing in the communities it serves. The 15 houses the district has constructed will be rented to teachers and their families who are eager to live on the Navajo Nation, where CCSD is located, and become part of the community.

A total of 15 new two- and three-bedroom homes have been built at two locations in Shiprock for use by educators in the Central Consolidated School District.

"These are for educators who are wanting to make a difference in their students' lives," Montoya said.

The completion of the projects should help CCSD be more competitive in the battle to attract new teachers, he said.

"We're in direct competition with every school district around us because of the teacher shortage," he said. "Whatever we can do about bringing in talent, people who are passionate about teaching, that's what we need to do. … Hopefully, this will help to do that."

Thompson echoed Montoya's assessment.

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"This has really given the district a leg up not only on recruiting, but retaining teachers in this district," she said.

Steve Carlson, the CCSD superintendent, said the fact that so many of the district's teachers have no choice but to live many miles away from the students they teach has hampered their ability to build a relationship with those children.

"They have not been able to connect with the community," he said.

Jeff Cillessen, left, of the B&M Cillessen Construction Co., and CCSD Superintendent Steve Carlson shake hands during a dedication ceremony on Aug. 5 in Shiprock for two new housing subdivisions owned by the district.

The new houses will go a long way toward changing that equation, he said, hopefully allowing CCSD to fill the 15 to 20 teacher vacancies it has. Carlson is especially optimistic the program will allow the district to address some of its traditionally hard-to-fill teaching positions, including those in the gifted, special education, and math and science programs.

Thompson said all 15 of the houses will be filled immediately, with some teachers planning to move in as quickly as the Aug. 5 dedication ceremonies were over. Most of the homes were going to teachers with families, but some of them will be rented to two or more single teachers who will occupy them as roommates, she said.

There was so much demand for the houses, Thompson said, that there are 17 families on a waiting list for a home.

But those folks may not have to wait long. District officials are so pleased with the program and its potential for addressing their recruitment and retention efforts that they already are planning on expanding the program.

CCSD officials hope to build dozens of more homes over the next several years to go along with the 15 they dedicated on Aug. 5 in Shiprock that will be rented to district educators.

Thompson said Mesa Heights is designed to accommodate 32 homes, and the subdivision at the district office can accommodate 29 homes. She said she is working on getting four new homes built in Mesa Heights even as work on the first 15 houses was wrapping up, and the projected completion date for those units is February 2023.

Additionally, CCSD officials are awaiting word on their potential acceptance in a $10 million pilot program operated by the state that would result in the construction of four more homes in the subdivision near the district office. The program would set up a partnership between CCSD and the state in which the district pays for 48% of the cost of the homes and the state pays for 52%. Thompson estimated the district would receive word on that funding within the next 60 days.

In the meantime, Montoya noted that state education officials seem so pleased with what CCSD already has accomplished that they have held up the district's work as a model for other districts to follow.

Thompson said the construction of the 15 homes began in April 2021, so the projects went from groundbreaking to completion in 16 months. That time frame likely would have been shorter, she said, if the economic and supply-line disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic had not occurred, she said.

"It is a very, very successful job, considering the conditions we were under," she said. "To be able to get everything done in 16 months is amazing."

Carlson was especially impressed with the quality of the homes.

"I think they're beautiful," he said. "Everything inside them is very well done, including the flooring, and I really like the landscaping."

He said the Mesa Heights development even has a couple of small parks built into it to make it more family friendly.

Montoya said CCSD's former superintendent, Daniel Benavidez, deserves much of the credit for getting the subdivisions built, noting that his expertise in guiding the district through the process was crucial.

Thompson credited the work of the general contractor, the B&M Cillessen Construction Co., and the project designer, Greer Stafford/SJCF Architecture Inc., for their contributions.

She said CCSD officials have planned a number of improvements across the district in her five years as director of operations, and she is gratified to see some of those begin to turn into reality.

"We're starting to see our labors reach fruition," she said. "It's kind of surreal."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.