Work to begin this spring on updating Hillsboro Community Center

by Debora Nicoll | December 18, 2020
4 min read
The 99-year-old building's leaky front-facing windows and crumbling stairs will be replaced in accordance with strict standards of historical preservation. Photograph by Joanna Schaefer copyright (c) 2020

The Sierra County Commission has approved a renovation contract that will make the Hillsboro Community Center safer and more energy efficient while maintaining its historical integrity.

Awarded the contract at the commission’s Dec. 15 meeting, Smithco Construction of Caballo, the sole bidder, will begin a needs assessment in early January. Work is expected to begin in the spring and be completed in four to six weeks.

At minimum, Smithco will repair or replace windows facing the street, which are the most deteriorated, and renovate the uneven and cracked steps leading up to the 99-year-old building to make them easier to navigate.

A $75,000 capital outlay grant awarded to HCC about three years ago by Rudy Martinez, then the state representative for Hillsboro, will pay for the needs assessment to guide future updating and the design and completion of the abovementioned renovations, according to Hillsboro resident Ted Caluwe, who acted as the liaison between Hillsboro and County Manager Bruce Swingle.

Upon receiving the $75,000 grant, the Hillsboro community met several times and decided the best use of the money would be to upgrade leaky windows, which will make the center more energy efficient. At present the center’s biggest maintenance expense is for heating propane, Caluwe said. While the HCC’s square footage is not large, the building’s high ceilings add to its cubic volume. “I’m sure the building is quite toasty up at the ceiling,” Caluwe said, “but down where the people are, it is downright chilly”.

Swingle told the commissioners that the county has been working with the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division for more than two years to meet HPD’s “overwhelming and demanding” requirements aimed at protecting the center’s historical character while allowing the desired repairs.

Built in 1922 to house the local high school, the building became a multipurpose community center in 1970. In 1986 the HCC was placed on the State Register of Cultural Properties and in 1993 obtained protective federal status on the National Register of Historic Places. Because of these prestigious designations, any work on the HCC must meet with the approval of state preservationists.

“In a normal building, all the work needed to be completed could be done with the $75,000 grant,” Swingle explained at the December meeting. However, only a fraction of HCC’s needed renovations can be completed with the available monies because of extraordinary care that must be taken when renovating a historic building.

For example, repairs to the three flights of stairs up from the street must match the original stones, Jocelyn Holguin, the county’s chief procurement officer, informed the commissioners. Likewise, windows cannot just be removed and replaced with new. Special putties must be used and the original design of the windows respected. Holguin told the commissioners that following the HPD’s requirements could result in the state’s providing additional funding to finish the HCC project.

Adding to the cost of the initial renovations is the need to adhere to the state’s wages rates. According to Rylan Edgmon, a representative of Smithco interviewed by the Sun, these rates can be significantly higher than those for residential construction. A carpenter will typically earn $15 to 20 per hour on residential construction. Carpenters working on a public building earn about $35 an hour.

Edgmon said that a pre-construction meeting between the county and Smithco design and construction teams will take place in early January, after which plans will be submitted to HPD for approval. Edgmon expects work to commence in the spring when the weather will be conducive to pouring concrete.

HCC president Gretchen Kerr expressed delight at the news that the project was moving forward. “The HCC Board and I are very grateful,” Kerr said, “for the hard work of Ted Caluwe, Bruce Swingle and the Sierra County Commissioners.”


Debora Nicoll covers the Sierra County Commission for the Sun.

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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.


Broadband Network to Connect Underserved in Sierra County
by Kevin Robinson-Avila | November 23, 2020

A $6.1 million federal grant will allow Sacred Wind Communications to deploy a 271-mile fiber-optic network to connect about 1,600 Sierra Countians who live in...

County commission approves ranking of proposed capital improvements with little public input and limited discussion
by Debora Nicoll | October 16, 2020

Few details about the projects, which would cost nearly $6 million over four years, if funded, were provided citizens or commissioners.

Sierra County to disburse nearly $300,000 in CARES funds to local small businesses soon
by Debora Nicoll | November 20, 2020

Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds will be disbursed to local small businesses and nonprofit organizations in time for Christmas.

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