When the Weatherford ISD Board of Trustees recently decided to revisit its facility needs and assign a committee made of citizens, teachers and students to help comb through mountains of data, little did they know the decision they would soon face.
That decision had been the topic of much decision in the past couple of weeks; that is until Thursday when the board voted unanimously to call a bond for the May 9 ballot.
The proposed bond is broken into three propositions and includes:
▪ Facility improvements at all existing WISD schools to extend the life of each facility - $18.8 million.
▪ Construction of a new Hall Middle School at the existing site and an addition at Tison Middle School to accommodate the new grade realignment of grades 6-8 at each facility - $49.5 million.
▪ Safety and security vestibules at each of WISD’s campuses - $6.6 million.
The bond package is based upon recommendations from the WISD Facility Advisory of Citizens, Teachers and Students (FACTS) Committee made up of those local citizens, civic and business leaders, students, parents and school staff. Members met to study and prioritize over $200 million of district needs and develop a bond package that addresses what they identified as the most critical of those needs. They toured district facilities, studied a district-wide facility assessment, growth projections, grade configuration data and district financial information.
The FACTS Committee recommended four priorities that were further studied by the Board of Trustees and reduced to three single propositions for voters to consider.
“The planning for this bond election has been a thorough and transparent process that began in late 2013 and included a comprehensive assessment of our existing facilities and considerable input from the community,” said Weatherford ISD Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Hanks. “The FACTS Committee, Administration and Board of Trustees all worked diligently to develop a package they felt met the needs of the students and teachers while continuing to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
Applause erupted from those in attendance Thursday when the WISD Board of Trustees took its vote but it came after lengthy discussions, mostly about what became Proposition Two - the realignment of grades 6-8 at Hall Middle School and Tison Middle School and the replacement of Hall with a new school at its current location.
At issue for some board members was the cost of renovation versus rebuilding and also if survey results from the community would support whatever decision was ultimately made. When told of the differences in cost versus building life span and that the survey didn’t specifically address what was being discussed, board members decided it was best to go with the option it chose.
Also, though the FACTS Committee expressed that moving the ninth grade to the high school would be recommended, the board decided to remove that portion of the package, reducing an approximate $14.1 million from the original amount proposed.
Following is a breakdown of each of the propositions and what they address:
Proposition One: Existing Facility Improvements - $18.8 million
The average age of WISD schools is 30 years old. This money allows for upgrades and improvements to comply with current codes and standards, increase safety and security, make schools more energy efficient and extend the life of each facility.
“The first priority of the FACTS Committee was to take care of what we have and ensure that all students and staff are safe,” said Leo Neely, FACTS Committee Co-Chair. “We worked to prioritize the deficiencies identified in the facility assessment and recommended to the Board of Trustees that the most critical items be addressed at every campus.”
Proposition Two: Grade Realignment & Growth - $49.5 million
Currently, WISD elementary schools serve grades K-6 and middle schools serve grades 7-8. The district is proposing to realign elementary schools to K-5 and middle schools to 6-8. This will provide better alignment with age-appropriate curriculum and state accountability standards and eliminate the need to transport sixth graders to the middle schools for advanced courses and fine arts.
This bond would replace the existing Hall Middle School with a new school at its current location to serve grades 6-8, as well as construct a sixth grade classroom addition at Tison Middle School to also make it a grade 6-8 campus.
“The committee studied several options to address the age and condition of Hall Middle School,” said FACTS Committee Co-Chair Amy Crippen. “To renovate and add onto the existing Hall Middle School to add 6th graders, bring it up to modern standards and create an equitable environment to Tison Middle School, would cost $31.3 million and would extend the life of the facility by only 20 years. Therefore, we recommended to replace the existing facility with a new school at its current location at a cost of $41.1 million that will serve the district for 50 years or more.”
In addition, these projects will provide space for student growth over the next decade at the elementary school level and will remove students from existing portable buildings.
Proposition Three: Safety & Security at All Campuses
This proposition includes the construction of controlled entrances to improve security at all existing campuses.
“This is a best practice utilized in educational facilities across the nation,” says Allen Lawrence, national school safety expert. With the controlled entrances, internal spaces will be reconfigured in order to house administration at the entrance of the facility. Visitors will be required to report to the campus office and present identification before being granted access to the main part of the school.
If approved, the estimated maximum tax impact of the total bond proposal is anticipated to be an additional 11 cents to the current rate of $1.38 for a total tax rate of $1.49. For a $100,000 home value this represents an increase of approximately $7.79 per month. Additional information about the proposed bond election will be posted to www.roobond.com in the coming days.
Weatherford ISD residents will have the opportunity to vote on the bond referendum beginning with Early Voting on April 27 and on Election Day, May 9.