Arlington trustees accept $663 million capital needs proposals

01/29/2014 10:22 PM

01/29/2014 10:58 PM

School trustees accepted recommendations Wednesday night from an advisory committee for two new elementary schools and fine arts, career, technical, agriculture and athletic centers that could cost $663.1 million

After five months of meetings, co-chairmen Chad Bates and Jeff Williams of the 38-person Capital Needs Steering Committee made their final recommendations to trustees.

Six trustees were present, and they all seconded a motion made by Trustee Aaron Reich to accept the recommendations. They scheduled a vote for Feb. 6 on whether to call a bond election in May to pay for the projects.

A districtwide fine arts center with a 2,500-capacity concert hall, classroom space and an instrument repair facility is among the recommendations.

“K-12 will have a completely unique fine arts experience unavailable in the state of Texas,” said Jeremy Earnhart, the district’s fine arts director.

The school board also accepted recommendations to add two science labs and one fine arts room to every elementary school, to re-purpose Corey Elementary and Roquemore Elementary into districtwide fine arts/dual language academies, to build six multipurpose activity centers at every high school, and to build two 900-capacity elementary schools.

“I’ve had this job 15 years, and we’ve never had this much support and opportunity to create programs we’ve known about, but couldn’t do,” said Craig Wright, career and technology director.

The committee, comprising elected officials and community leaders, was created in September. The committee members conducted community meetings, surveyed voters and provided online questionnaires. The recommendations will form a master plan for the district.

The school board also paid for a survey that indicates that slightly more than half of the district’s voters would support issuing up to $700 million in bonds.

On Feb. 6, trustees will have to decide if they want to call a May bond election or use money from the $468 million general operating budget to pay for some of the recommended facility upgrades. The cost for prioritized facility recommendations total $663,129,278, though the identified need is actually about $200 million more. The district has about $445 million in outstanding debt.

Career and Technical center

One of the recommendations is for a $46 million districtwide Career and Technical Center.

Wright said the center would serve up to 1,400 students a day, allow for an expansion of cosmetology, culinary arts, business, engineering, marketing, health science programs and the school district’s Fire Academy.

The center would also help with the potential creation of a police academy.

“We would be looking for programs that prepare students for paid employment when they graduate,” Wright said.

Because the district operates on block scheduling students could easily divide their time between their home schools and the Career and Technical Center, he said.

Agricultural Science Facility

A $2.5 million Agricultural Science Facility would provide a space for students to house animals.

Currently, Arlington students enrolled in the district’s agriculture program house their animals at two private properties owned by Dalworthington Gardens families, Wright said.

Wright would also oversee the agriculture center where horticulture and flower arrangement classes, and a veterinary technologist and technician program would be offered.

Fine Arts Center

Board members accepted the recommendation to build a districtwide Fine Arts Center valued at $32 million for concerts, classes and plays.

A concert hall would provide room for a 2,500-student convocation; classroom space would reduce congestion in district high schools and offer classes at nontraditional times; and an instrument repair facility would save the district money and would offer certification for students that could lead to well-paid jobs.

The center will also provide space for an art gallery in the foyer, dance practice and large-scale productions for theater.

An overwhelming 81 percent of voters surveyed said they would approve bond money to purchase band instruments at $4.3 million, and orchestra instruments at $3.4 million for students who cannot afford them.

Athletics Complex

The recommendations include a $25 million districtwide Athletic Complex including a natatorium and a competition gym for gymnastics and wrestling.

Athletics director OJ Kemp said she’d like to see a center with a 50-meter pool for students and the community to rent out instead of Arlington students using two 25-meter pools at UT Arlington and Tarrant County College.

Kemp said the center would also replace outdated wrestling and gymnastics facilities. The wrestling program is about to overtake soccer in participants, she said.

“Right now our gymnastics team is working out of Webb Elementary,” Kemp said. “It’s so outdated we don’t even have a pit.”

The committee also recommended the district build multipurpose activity centers at each high school which would cost $60 million.

The activity centers would be large enough to house entire bands as if they were on the field, and provide shelter for drill teams, cheerleaders, football, baseball, softball, wrestling and provide much needed lockers and weight rooms.

Other recommendations include relocating the Newcomer Center, junior high and high school special education alternative curriculum centers, security updates, instrument and equipments updates, and replacing old buses and service vehicles.

Although the board is set a vote for Feb. 6, they have until Feb. 28 to call a May bond election.

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