Arlington trustees voted 7-0 Thursday night to raise the district’s tax rate by 5 cents and to hire 12 architectural firms for the first and second phases of the district’s $663 million bond package.
Trustees approved a tax rate of $1.34 per $100 of assessed valuation, up from last year’s rate of $1.29. The new rate means a tax hike of $47.55 per year for a house valued at $100,000, school officials said.
The rate includes $1.04 for maintenance and operation, and 30 cents for debt service.
In May, Arlington voters approved the bond package, the largest in Tarrant County history. The five-year construction program is scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2019.
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The architects chosen Thursday will design a career and technical center, an agricultural science facility, two new elementary schools, and updates to high schools and junior highs.
Forty-four architects bid for the work, and 12 were chosen. They will be paid a total of $17.9 million, Chief Financial Officer Cindy Powell said.
Several firms were awarded multiple bid packages. The Huckabee firm was awarded the largest bid to design six multipurpose centers for each high school that are estimated to cost a total of $47.1 million, and also won another bid to renovate one high school and three elementaries that could cost $28.6 million.
Huckabee could earn $4.9 million for both bid packages.
Chris Huckabee, CEO of the firm, contributed $5,000 toward the pro-bond political action committee Arlington First back in April. Huckabee has offices in Fort Worth, Dallas, Waco, Austin and Houston.
Trustee John Hibbs said architects were selected based on their prior experience, affordability and adherence to district criteria. The firms told the school district what projects they wanted to work on, and supplied information on five projects they completed that were similar.
Five of the firms are local, and two of them are “historically underutilized” business vendors.
VLK Architects were awarded with the second-largest contract to design a districtwide career and technical center with an estimated cost of $39.2 million, and a smaller bid package to design a districtwide agricultural science facility estimated at $2 million.
VLK could earn $2.6 million for their designs. The Fort Worth-based firm also contributed $5,000 to Arlington First back in April.
Right after voters approved the bond in May, anti-bond activist Faith Bussey, who led the political action committee It’s OK to Vote No, Arlington, told the Star-Telegram that her group would make sure none of the bond-backers got contracts with the district.
On Thursday Bussey said she knew the contracts had been in the works and couldn’t stop them.
“Litigation is definitely an option and may turn out to be the only one,” she said. “At the very least, the school board should know that what they are doing is completely unethical, if it isn’t flat out illegal.”
Hibbs responded: “The procurement of architects was a transparent process that was based on a rating scorecard to ensure that only capable firms were awarded contracts.”
The process was the most transparent he has seen, Hibbs said.
“I don’t want anyone to take away from this discussion that the due diligence wasn’t done,” he said.
Trustee Aaron Reich also said pro-bond campaign contributions had nothing to do with who was selected for the design process.