Busy 2013 in Mansfield

12/30/2013 12:00 AM

12/29/2013 3:05 PM

So much went on in Mansfield last year that City Manager Clayton Chandler struggled to sift out the most significant events of 2013 for his list.

“The greatest thing I like seeing is the unity of the community as opposed to any single accomplishment, although there were a lot of those,” he said. “All the downtown events, the Fourth of July, the Christmas program, the parades, all these events that the citizens have enjoyed.”

But he settled on a less glamorous event, an uptick in the city’s bond rating – to AA+ -- from the major rating service, Standard & Poor’s, in the fall. A rating increase reflects the bond raters’ confidence in the city’s financial health and lowers the city’s costs to borrow money.

“The last five years have been record bad years for many cities,” Chandler said. “But we’ve been like the Energizer Bunny.”

Among the other major occurrences, funding was finally approved for the main lanes of Texas 360 to be extended through Mansfield, between the frontage roads that were built years ago. The new main lanes will be toll lanes.

Also, the 168-bed Methodist Mansfield Medical Center announced late in 2013 that it plans to add a new patient tower and a second professional office building at its East Broad Street site.

Preserving an important part of Mansfield history, the city purchased the house at 604 W. Broad St. that was built by the city’s co-founder, Ralph Man. Meanwhile, private interests have purchased the historic J.H. Wright House a few blocks over, at 302 W. Broad St., and are converting it into Broad Street Bistro, a steak and seafood restaurant. The restaurant is projected to open this summer, along with another interesting eatery, a Mellow Mushroom pizzeria, which is under construction in the southeast corner of Main Street and Broad Street.

Also, the City Council scrapped a bond election in early 2013 but has committed to provide for street improvements. The council plans to spend $20 million over the next three years to rebuild and widen roads to ease traffic congestion. The city will use certificates of obligation, which are similar to bonds but don’t require an election.

In the outdoor realm, the city and its sales tax-funded park board broke ground in March on the 80-acre Elmer W. Oliver Nature Park at 1650 Matlock Road, and now it’s getting ready for a Jan. 25 grand opening. The $3 million first phase of the park will be followed by two more phases that will add classroom structures and extend the Walnut Creek Linear Park trail eastward to Joe Pool Lake, at a cost of $10 million.

The school district was extra busy in 2013.

Perhaps most importantly, officials said, the district got a new superintendent. After Bob Morrison left for the superintendent job at the Garland school district early last year, the Mansfield school board decided against conducting a nationwide search and instead promoted Morrison’s second in command, Jim Vaszauskas.

School Board President Beth Light said that after talking with focus groups and meeting with community leaders and parents, “People liked the way the district was going, and people thought very highly of him.”

As part of the 2011 bond package, the district tore down J.L. Boren and Alice Ponder elementary schools last summer to make room for new buildings. Officials hope to have the new schools ready for the students and staff by the end of 2014. The new Tarver-Rendon Elementary building opened during the summer. The district also opened Judy K. Miller Elementary, which is currently hosting the students from J.L. Boren Elementary.

Meanwhile, the school board shaved 1.3 cents off the district property tax rate for the 2013-14 school year, leaving a total tax rate of $1.5271 per $100 of property value. The tax break will save about $26 a year on a home valued at $200,000.

The school district’s Toys for Tots drive collected 19,000 toys for underprivileged children in December, besting its 2012 toy collections.

Also, Summit, Mansfield, Legacy and Timberview high schools all made it to at least the first round of the state football playoffs. Legacy went the farthest, advancing to the state semifinals before falling to Highland Park. The Lake Ridge High School band also advanced, marching to the top 10 in state. And Ben Barber Career Tech Academy’s student-built solar-powered car won the State Energy Conservation Award for “outstanding engineering excellence.”

Mansfield also welcomed some major businesses in 2013, a list topped by the newly built and opened Sam’s Club store.

On the industrial side, one of the biggest projects is the ongoing expansion of Klein Tools, which is relocating many of its operations to Mansfield and has nearly completed the first of several large buildings. The 60,000-square-foot “heat treat” building is nearly complete. The 156-year-old company, which makes pliers, wire cutters and many other hand tools, is designing its second building of similar size, said Scott Welmaker, the city’s economic development director. Klein has promised to invest $70 million to expand its Mansfield operations and hire 585 employees by 2021. In return, the company will receive city grants of $500,000 annually for 12 years.

“There ahead of where they’re supposed to be,” Welmaker said. “They’ve hired around 200 people.”

Don Lee Farms, a California food processor that bought and is using the former Simeus Foods building, plans to increase production at the plant “because it’s done so well,” Welmaker said.

He noted two other companies looking to expand existing operations. Dura-Tech Processes, which makes a coating for pipes used in the oil industry, is building a 54,000-square-foot building, and Sellmark Corp., which designs, markets and distributes sporting optics like night-vision goggles, is doubling the size of its building and has bought an adjoining eight acres for future expansion.

“There’s that and much, much more,” Welmaker said. “Lots of expansion and lots of new businesses are coming in, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

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