Zimmerly Elementary School has expanding cracks in the floor and along the walls, which is part of the reason the school building is no longer used as an elementary school.
Cathy Cook | El Defensor Chieftain photos

The Zimmerly Elementary School building is not as vacant as it once was. Although the ultimate fate of the building is still undecided, multiple community groups are utilizing the space in the meantime.

The Socorro Friends of the Public Library house their book collection in the old school library and host monthly book sales there to raise funds for the city library. The city’s theater group also stores items there, along with the city of Socorro and the school district.

The Middle Rio Grande Economic Development Association moved into the school building a month ago. Executive Director Kirstin Keller said the free office space has been a huge help in keeping down overhead costs.

Executive Director Kirstin Keller in the MRGEDA office.

Socorro Consolidated School District Superintendent Ron Hendrix said the building was vacated for several reasons, one of which is that the wings are settling. The settling is causing ever-expanding cracks in the building’s walls and floors.

According to Hendrix, when he came on board with the district, it was too late to get the building repaired under warranty. He said he is not sure why that was not pursued sooner.

The cracks could be a safety issue for students, said Hendrix.

“If something happened, we’d be sued like nobody’s business, because we didn’t do anything about it and we knew about it,” said Hendrix.

When the district was trying to determine what to do about the issue, there was enough space in Parkview for all of the Zimmerly Elementary students. At the time, Parkview was well below capacity. With the added students, the school is at 80 percent capacity.

Long term, having Parkview at a higher capacity also factors in positively for getting state funding to repair or refurbish that school, said Hendrix. So, instead of requesting emergency funding to attempt to repair the school, the students were moved to Parkview Elementary.

Getting an accurate estimate for repairing Zimmerly would cost $60,000 to $70,000 and Hendrix said he does not want the district to spend funds on that unless they are coming from the state. The Public School Facilities Authority has recommended that the school district demolish the building, but the school board does not want to demolish it without knowing more about what it would cost to repair.

New Mexico Tech was considering purchasing the building to use as student housing, but the cost of the remodel did not make financial sense for the number of students that could be housed in the space, said Hendrix.

“So that’s kind of off the table. The guy told me they’re still in consideration for something else, but he didn’t tell me what. If our early college high school program really takes off, this could be a place that we house the classes, or it could be continued community use like what we’re doing now.”

PSFA also looked at the cost of remodeling Zimmerly to be a size that would be adequate for a new middle school, but the cost was over 70 percent of what a new middle school building would cost, said Hendrix. If a building is over 70 percent of what a new building would cost, they go with a new building, because it should be able to last the school district longer, said Hendrix.

The district will be tearing down another old elementary school building, Edward Torres Elementary, which was closed in the 80s. Demolition is expected to begin within a few months and will cost just under $1 million. The state legislature set aside funding specifically to help demolish old school district buildings.

Hendrix said that the building has been broken into frequently, and allowing it to sit vacant was something of a liability.

“There was one room I walked into, it had a computer. They had built a fire in the middle of the computer box, so it was all up the wall and the ceilings got black. If something happens, we’re still on the hook insurance-wise.”