Arlington voters overwhelmingly approve $966 million school bond

Arlington will be rebuild four schools and add a competition football field and six competition softball fields after voters approved a $966 million bond on Tuesday.

The bond passed with 66.56% approval in unofficial results. More than 21,000 votes were cast.

Administrators do not expect to increase the tax rate for the bond.

The district plans to rebuild Carter Junior High, Berry Elementary, Thornton Elementary and Webb Elementary and close Roark and Knox elementary schools.

The schools the district will replace average 61 years old.

Money would also be used for renovations to accommodate state-mandated pre-kindergarten classes and to upgrade playgrounds, gymnasiums and athletic fields.

The upgrades to athletic fields include replacing the artificial turf on some fields and constructing the softball and football fields.

The nearly $1 billion bond is the largest the district has ever sent to voters, but surveyors and officials in the district said in August they expected the measure to be approved by voters.

District officials declined to comment until all votes had been counted.

Preparing for full-day pre-kindergarten, one of the biggest issues in the bond, was partially out of the hands of the district, officials said.

The district, which offers half-day pre-kindergarten, expects the early childhood offering to double the required classroom space.

Texas requires school districts offer pre-kindergarten to students who are economically disadvantaged, have limited English skills, are homeless, have a parent in the military or who was injured or killed in action, are in foster care or have a parent who has received the Star of Texas Award — a commendation for first-responders.

To make the district ready for the increase in enrollment, officials plan to renovate 75 classrooms. That number may change as the district gathers more information, such as updated enrollment estimates.

The state law requiring the switch to full-day pre-kindergarten took effect with the start of the fall semester, but Arlington has been granted extra time to make campuses ready.

The renovations are expected to cost around $44 million, but district officials said some of that money will also be used to update or replace 10 gymnasiums that don’t meet standards for space or construction.

The age of some facilities was another issue.

Campuses like Carter Junior High weren’t built with modern utilities or population in mind, said Kelly Horn, director of facilities for the district.

The school’s 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.

The schools to be rebuilt were built between 1955 and 1960. The general practice is to build campuses to last 50 years, Horn said.

The population of Arlington has gone from 44,775 in 1960 to 398,112, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Horn said the planners in the district at the time the campuses were built did not anticipate such a large increase in the student body.

Avoiding problems in the future caused by planning today is one reason the bond includes money for a new high school football competition field.

New sports facilities in the Arlington school district, including that field, won’t actually be new.

Eric White, athletics director for the district, said the plan is to renovate existing facilities, including the football practice field at Martin High School.

The district expects to devote $19 million — about 2% of the total bond package — to renovating a football practice field into a competition facility. Renovations to Cravens Field at Lamar High School and Wilemon Field at Sam Houston High School are anticipated to cost a combined $32.6 million.

Softball fields at all six high schools, which are also getting some attention in the bond, have a combined estimated cost of $6.96 million.

The district will need a new football field soon. Arlington students have used UTA’s football field in recent years, but the university has other plans for that property.

Jeff Carlton, director of communications and media relations for UTA, said Maverick Field, which the district rents, needs “significant improvements to maintain it as a viable venue in the years ahead.”

Carlton said the university hasn’t set in stone any plans for the future of the field.

Ryan Pierce, director of bond communications for the Arlington school district, said UTA is working with the district to provide a football venue until a new one can be arranged.

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James Hartley is the Arlington city government reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He is passionate about local politics, true stories, movies and baseball. He has worked for the Tyler Morning Telegraph, D Magazine and the Dallas Observer. You can connect with James on Twitter @ByJamesHartley or Instagram @JamesTakesPhotos. Want reporters like James to help you stay informed about your community? You can help the Star-Telegram continue to offer great local, political, sports and culture news by purchasing a digital or print subscription today.