For nearly a year, the Weatherford ISD Board of Trustees has heard facts and figures about the district’s facility needs.On Monday, they came one step closer to addressing those needs at a lengthy work session that finally gave the administration and its architects a clear direction of what is best. Now, the fine-tuning begins.Of the many options available, trustees chose a configuration that allows the district to not only meet the current needs of students but accommodate the anticipated growth in Weatherford. Though no formal vote was taken and nothing is definitive, the board was in agreement about the choice.In the chosen plan, ninth graders would move to a new wing to be built at Weatherford High School and a Weatherford Middle School would be created at the current Ninth Grade Center to house seventh and eighth grades. What is currently Hall Middle School would be renovated and become one of two intermediate campuses for fifth and sixth grades, Tison being the other.While exact numbers of how much the project would cost have not been finalized, estimates are somewhere in the $108 million range. Included in that estimate is the construction of the new main building for ninth graders; construction of a new Career and Technology Center; modification of several athletic facilities; additional parking; relocation of the Ag barn and other improvements at the high school ($42 million).Also included is about $18 million to renovate and update Hall and the Ninth Grade Center, as well as capital improvements and maintenance and transportation facilities ($48 million).When the night began, trustees heard from Jeff Roberts from First Southwest Securities of the possible costs of 20- and 30-year bonds.He said because a 20-year bond would more than likely strap the district, a 30-year bond was more reasonable. He added that the district also doesn’t want the technology upgrades of $11.5 million to spread over the life of the bond and that the numbers shown reflect the amortization of that portion in the first five years.If trustees decide to move forward and call a bond, the impact to homeowners varies depending on the amount. A $100 million bond would impact the Weatherford homeowner about $175 a year (around $14.50 a month) per $100,000 of home value, less the mandatory $15,000 homestead exemption. Of course, residents 65 and older would not see an impact due to state-mandated tax caps for senior citizens.Roberts stressed that the numbers presented were based on conservative estimates and that, realistically, the numbers could be less.“We always try to be conservative since the actual funding of the bond could be six months off,” he explained.Tracy Ray, WISD Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations, emphasized that the tax collection rate in Weatherford is 98 percent and that Roberts’ expected lower rate is “more than possible.”After Roberts’ presentation, the board heard from Dennis Clayton, Executive Director of the Weatherford Economic Development Authority. Clayton gave trustees an overview of what new businesses and expansions are happening in the city, including the 75,000 square-foot Strand-8 entertainment facility being built next to JC Penney that is scheduled to open this fall.Overall, Clayton said permit requests have stabilized in the past three years and that countywide growth is up about 3.5 percent.Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Hanks said the amount was “significant” and that it put pressure on WISD to keep up with the growth.“There are a lot of people who want to be in this kind of environment with their business and their family,” he said.Up next was Richard Jaynes from VLK Architects, who laid out for trustees the three main options, each housing three sub-options. The second choice was ruled out altogether since it didn’t address the districts’ needs. The third option was eventually nixed because the Citizen’s Committee had expressed that it wanted to keep Hall as an instructional campus as opposed to a multifunctional support building.“[The committe stated that] using that much square footage for a multipurpose facility would not be viewed positively,” Board Vice President Paul Paschall reminded trustees.It was then that trustees focused on the first option. The biggest issue there was the construction of new competitive baseball and softball fields after the Weatherford Baseball Booster Club had communicated to the district some of its concerns. With VLK’s reassurances, the option chosen by board members was the best for all involved.Pending approval, VLK said construction of the new wing at the high school would begin in approximately April 2014, with ninth-grade students scheduled to move in in August 2015. Renovation of the Ninth Grade Center would begin a year later in April 2015 and seventh and eighth graders would move in to what would then be known as Weatherford Middle School in August 2016. Overall project completion is expected in March 2017.The next step is for VLK to refine the numbers and come back to trustees with an absolute bottom line. But time is of the essence if board members are wanting to call for a bond to be placed on the May ballot as the deadline is March 1.The board meets again Thursday but it wasn’t known at press time if further discussion on a possible bond election would take place.
Melissa Winn, 817-594-9902, Ext. 104 Twitter: @scoopmdw3701