Fort Worth school district may add 300 classrooms

Posted Sunday, Aug. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
Draft list of proposals Consultant AECOM prepared a draft list of projects for the school district. The district cautioned that the list and the dollar figures are preliminary and are likely to change. Read the draft list.
Among the suggested projects Create new Benbrook-area high school complex for grades six through 12 by converting Benbrook Middle School and using the Westpark Elementary School campus. The district would relocate Westpark students to a new campus in the Benbrook area. Convert McLean Sixth Grade Center into pre-K/early childhood center. Sixth-graders would move to the existing Tanglewood Elementary building, and a new campus would be built for Tanglewood students. A replacement campus for the aging Washington Heights Elementary, likely on the same site. Prekindergarten classroom additions at 14 schools to make the program available to all 4-year-olds. A performing and fine arts academy for students in sixth through 12th grades that would draw from across the district. It would be on existing district property. A science/technology/engineering/math (STEM) academy for students in sixth through 12th grades in a remodeled building in downtown Fort Worth. A multipurpose event center with a 6,500-seat area. Internet-equipped e-cafes inside all 13 high schools. New athletic fieldhouses at all high schools and practice field turf at the 11 high schools that don’t have it. Laptops or tablets for all high school students. New school buses, maintenance trucks, student uniforms and instruments. Source: Fort Worth school district/AECOM
Tax rate impact Officials are still analyzing the cost to taxpayers; the final amount would be determined by which projects are included. On a $756 million bond package, the maximum tax rate increase is estimated at 14.5 cents. That would be $146.16 per year, or $12.18 per month, for a $115,599 home with a $15,000 homestead exemption. That’s the value of an average home in the district. The current tax rate is $1.322, with $1.04 for operations expenses and 28 cents for debt repayment. Capital improvements and buildings renovations would be financed over 25 years, bus and equipment purchases over 15 years, and computer and technology equipment over five years. Source: Fort Worth school district

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Benbrook could finally get its own high school.

Youngsters at crowded Tanglewood Elementary could get more elbow room.

Budding scientists, engineers and web developers could learn the tools of the trade at a centralized campus, while young artists could sing, dance and draw at a fine arts academy.

Last week, a consultant hired by the Fort Worth school district unveiled a list of projects to be considered in the district’s first bond election since 2007. The total estimated cost is $785 million, although that number will likely change as projects are added or removed.

The ambitious five-year plan is designed to improve on crucial science and technology skills, continue support of fine arts and manage growth in the district’s west and southwest, including the Benbrook and Tanglewood areas, district leaders said.

The proposal calls for adding more than 300 classrooms, opening pre-kindergarten classes at 14 schools and renovating McLean Sixth Grade Center into the district’s second early childhood center. The consultants recommended renovating the existing Tanglewood building into the new McLean Center.

“Fort Worth ISD, unlike most urban school districts, continues to grow, and we must provide the resources to be competitive in a global society,” Superintendent Walter Dansby told the Star-Telegram.

The DFW metropolitan area posted the largest population increase in the nation from July 2011 to July 2012, adding 131,879 people, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released in March.

Fort Worth has added 4,600 students since the last bond election, bringing enrollment to 83,491. Estimates predict that 4,400 more are on the way over the next five years.

Although the details of the bond package weren’t made public until last week, the district hopes to have the proposal on the ballot in November.

On Aug. 13, the nine-member school board plans to vote on whether to call the election for Nov. 5. If the answer is yes, the district would host community meetings in October to explain the package to taxpayers.

By Sunday evening, however, the public debate had already mounted.

Concerned about the plan to move Tanglewood students to a new elementary school building west of Hulen Street, the Tanglewood Neighborhood Association called for an emergency meeting to be held Thursday.

On Friday, residents were asked to respond to a survey about options to ease what Principal Connie Smith called “present overcrowding” at Tanglewood Elementary.

One option included splitting the elementary into two campuses, placing third- through fifth-graders at a new building west of Hulen and leaving younger students in the existing building.

Trustee Judy Needham, who represents the area, contacted the Star-Telegram Sunday evening to say that after hearing from many concerned parents and neighbors, she would ask the consultants to design an addition for the campus rather than move the students. Shortly thereafter, the district posted a statement on its website saying “it is very likely an addition will be designed for the existing Tanglewood campus.”

Also underway is an effort by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce to register a specific-purpose political action committee called Citizens Supporting Classroom Excellence. The group is working on its own citywide survey.

“It’s routine for the chamber to test the political climate with the community and with our membership on these issues. Whether it’s a bond election, a proposition or a referendum, the chamber acts as a catalyst for discussion and then we advise our partners on timing and strategy to ensure that the election has the best chance of success,” chamber president and CEO Bill Thornton said in a statement.

‘Dream come true’

While Tanglewood parents worry, Benbrook couldn’t be happier, according to Mayor Jerry Dittrich.

The city’s quest for its own high school once prompted it to consider leaving the Fort Worth district and starting its own.

“We have wanted our own high school for a long period of time,” Dittrich said. “We are very happy about the prospects of having a high school out here.”

Most Benbrook students attend Western Hills High School. The bond proposal calls for creating a new high school by converting Benbrook Middle School and nearby Westpark Elementary School into a complex to serve grades six through 12. A new elementary school would be built for Westpark students.

Benbrook, just southwest of Fort Worth, has added about 2,500 residents since the 1990 Census. Dittrich said planners expect the city of 22,000 to grow even faster as the economy improves.

Parent Zoe Powell Moreau said: “I'm so, so happy that they are thinking about putting a new high school in Benbrook. We need it so badly. That’s my dream come true. I just hope they build it in the next year and a half.” Moreau’s son will be a seventh-grader in the fall.

In addition to the new schools and classrooms, several buildings would be expanded or renovated. The pre-kindergarten program, which now serves about 4,000 children, would be expanded to all 4-year-olds, reaching about 3,000 additional children who are not getting pre-kindergarten instruction because space is limited.

The two specialized campuses would serve students in grades six through 12.

The performing arts academy would draw the district’s talented fine arts students. The science and technology academy could open in an as-yet-unidentified remodeled building in downtown Fort Worth.

The campuses would follow an industry trend of offering specialized education programs along with traditional neighborhood schools.

In recent years, the district has launched Gold Seal Schools and Programs of Choice designed to allow students to choose courses based on their interests and talents. They include two single-sex academies, culinary arts programs, an aviation program and a campus for students interested in higher education and careers in healthcare.

The consultants recommended three elementary schools be built. In addition to the new Tanglewood and Westpark schools, the aging Washington Heights Elementary School, built in the 1980s under the site of the original campus, would be replaced.

Also proposed is a new multipurpose event center with a 6,500-seat arena, to be used for graduations and other district functions.

All high schools would get new athletics field houses, and 11 high schools without practice-field turf would receive it.

A checkered past

A disastrous 1999 bond program that ended in prison sentences created a climate of mistrust that the district has spent years trying to overcome.

The $398 million program was plagued by cost overruns, delays and mismanagement. Three men, including a former district maintenance director, were convicted of criminal charges.

Inadequate planning and confusion over city codes caused construction delays and cost overruns, and money was spent for projects not approved by voters.

Not until 2007 did the district try again.

Former Trustee Jean McClung said the delay prevented Fort Worth from keeping classrooms and campuses up to date with technology and other needs.

“You cannot go as long as we went the last time because you are so far behind,” McClung said.

This time around, supporters point to the presence of Dansby, who managed the 2007 program as a deputy superintendent.

The $593.6 million capital improvement program was completed on time and with a $90 million surplus. That money is being used to fund other projects, including additions to North Side High School’s culinary arts program and renovations of a downtown building for a Young Women’s Leadership Academy expected to open in October.

Trustees say that after the 2007 election, they pledged not to wait as long to propose more improvements. Now, they could have only three months to persuade voters to say yes again.

Clemente De La Cruz, the father of four children in Fort Worth schools, will be among those watching. This fall, one of his sons will enter seventh grade at McLean Middle School, which would get new classrooms under the current proposal.

De La Cruz said that, generally speaking, he believes in supporting schools if it is done equitably across the district.

“I see the need to do improvements,” he said. “I don’t know that we need all these improvements.”

This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326 Twitter: @jessamybrown

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