Why does Arlington need another school bond? The age of some schools is one reason

The Arlington school district would replace the 61-year-old Carter Junior High if voters approve a $966 million bond on Nov. 5.
The Arlington school district would replace the 61-year-old Carter Junior High if voters approve a $966 million bond on Nov. 5. Arlington School District

At 61 years old, Carter Junior High in Arlington is showing its age.

While the school doesn’t have flickering lights or caved-in ceilings like older schools depicted on TV shows, its doorways, ramps and hallways are incompatible with the Americans with Disabilities Act. A nurse’s office, not much larger than a supply closet, has yellowed with age. In the library, students struggle with a slow internet connection — and that’s on the computers that have web access.

Carter is among four schools that would be rebuilt if Arlington school district voters approve a $966 million bond on Nov. 5. The district says the schools no longer have the usefulness or design of modern buildings. Webb, Thornton and Berry elementary schools would also be replaced while Roark and Knox elementary schools would be closed. The district says the bond will not require an increase in the tax rate for debt service.

The buildings were built between 1955 and 1960. The general practice is to build campuses to last 50 years, said Kelly Horn, the executive director of the district’s plant services department.

A new Carter Junior High would be built on the site of Knox Elementary, 2315 Stonegate St., which would be closer to the majority of the school’s students.

The district plans to demolish Knox Elementary, consolidate students into the other elementary schools and use Helen Wessler Park park next door to build athletic fields and a track. In exchange, the school district would give the city land for a new park.

That would provide enough space for a sufficient junior high school campus and the athletics field, which would be open to the public, Horn said.

Erosion is a problem at the site of Carter Junior High at 701 Tharp St., Horn said. That limits the space for athletic fields and a track. The campus was built for a smaller, more suburban city, he said.

Inside, the school has sacrificed classroom space for more seating in the cafeteria. Unlike most modern schools, Carter does not have a stage for performances in the cafeteria.

Instead, performances take place in the school’s gym, a pasty yellow space with an acoustics treatment on the ceiling that has turned orange with age.

“You have to keep in mind the time these schools were built,” Horn said. “They didn’t necessarily think to put the acoustic pyramids on the ceiling and walls to help stop sound from echoing.”

Because of the high ceiling in the gym, the treatment doesn’t completely stop the echo of students shouting and playing.

Like Carter, Knox and the other schools are nearing the end of their lifespan and don’t suit the population needs for their communities.

“The people who ran the district before us weren’t bad people, they just didn’t predict this kind of growth in Arlington,” Horn said. “They thought we would always be a little suburb to Fort Worth and Dallas.”

The population of Arlington has gone from 44,775 in 1960 to 398,112, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Carter Junior High was not built to serve the growing community around it.

Newer schools like McNutt Elementary, built to serve an expanding Arlington, have outdoor learning spaces and common areas where teachers take their students out of the confines of the classroom. Large windows let in natural light while the older schools are covered in subway tiles and cinder blocks.

During the board’s Aug. 12 meeting, Trustee Aaron Reich said this bond proposal would extend the improvements from the one in 2014.

With that bond the district built a career and technical center, refurbished auditoriums, increased campus security and constructed multipurpose activity centers at all six traditional high schools.

“For anybody that is wondering from the outside, the reality is the impact of the bond has been really positive and substantial for our students,” Reich said.

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