Northeast Tarrant

June 22, 2014

Birdville school leaders eye plans for $163.2 million bond

Three aging campuses could be rebuilt under the proposed plans for the bond.

A new, $163.2 million bond proposal is in preliminary stages at Birdville schools, slightly more than a year after voters defeated a bond in May 2013.

The plan includes many of the same improvements that were in the previous bond issue — minus the consolidation of elementary schools that angered parents and helped lead to the defeat.

Kristin Wheeler, a 2014 bond committee member, said she hopes taxpayers will see the effort to compromise and support the new plan.

“That is what we believe that the voters will approve,” Wheeler said. “The needs are still there.”

Reconstruction of three aging campuses, improvements to science labs and increased campus security are among the projects recommended in the early plan presented recently to Birdville school board trustees by the bond committee.

“This is not a wish list. It’s a must-have list,” said Mark Wood, another bond committee member.

The school board has to decide whether to go forward by Aug. 18 in order to get the bond issue on the November ballot, said Mark Thomas, district spokesman.

School board President Cary Hancock said the board will review the proposal through much of the summer. He said the committee weighed long-term needs and the district’s track record of being “prudent” with finances.

Aging campuses have been retrofitted and patched for technology, but bond committee members said it is time for a complete rebuild at three schools built in the 1950s and 1960s. Campus security remains a top concern as school killings continue to show how vulnerable students are to attacks. Investment in technology is a must for Birdville students, bond proponents said.

“You have to have more access to technology,” Wood said. “You need infrastructure in the building to be able to handle the required technology that students today have to have in order to compete.”

Wheeler said the committee wants to keep the tax impact to a minimum. According to the plan, the tax increase for an average home in the district, valued at about $120,000, would be about $3 a month.

Senior citizens claiming an “over 65” exemption will not have an increase, according to the plan.

Proponents say they hope the economy has improved enough to make taxpayers more open to the idea. They point to larger bond programs recently approved in the nearby Fort Worth and Arlington school districts.

“The economy has definitely improved, and I think that is a major reason why some of these much larger issues have passed this year,” Wood said.

Inside the proposed

bond program

Bond committee members said they scrutinized needs by reviewing a detailed analysis that included the cost of maintaining older structures. The plan was hashed out over about eight meetings.

“There are no luxuries in this,” Hancock said. “We are trying to be fiscally prudent.”

The program includes complete rebuilds of North Richland Middle School, Birdville Elementary and Academy at West Birdville. New construction would add classroom space and eliminate portables at all three.

“We are wasting money hand over fist on facilities that need to be repaired and replaced,” said John Cope, a committee member.

At the Academy at West Birdville, the total estimated cost to complete needed maintenance is more than 60 percent of the cost for rebuilding the campus, according to the plan.

The plans include additions at Smithfield and Watauga middle schools as well as Watauga Elementary. School science labs also would be upgraded to ensure they meet state requirements.

A safety vestibule for Birdville High School to help with screening visitors is proposed, as well as security fencing to better protect portable classrooms and additional security cameras for each campus.

Opposition: ‘Wait and see’

During the previous bond campaign, a proposal to consolidate four elementary schools angered some Richland Hills residents who didn’t want to lose their neighbohood school, Richland Elementary.

The vote was 57.1 percent against to 42.9 percent in favor.

No consolidation is included this time, and the package is also $20 million less.

“It’s just water under the bridge. They’ve learned their lesson,” said Gerrit K. Spieker, a member of Keep Richland Open, which organized against the 2013 bond program.

Spieker said he has seen in literature that the 2014 bond committee took their concerns to heart. He said if the last bond had been placed on the ballot in separate proposals, portions of that program may have passed.

Spieker said they will have have to study the new plan.

“We will wait and see on the details,” Spieker said. “We see no reason at the moment to raise any opposition.”

This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives

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