Tyler ISD soon will embark on one of, if not the, single largest construction project in the city’s history after voters on Saturday passed a $198 million bond to renovate John Tyler and Robert E. Lee high schools.
Complete but unofficial election returns showed 6,402 votes or 83 percent of voters casting ballots in favor of the bond package.
Superintendent Marty Crawford said he was overwhelmed by the strong show of support.
“The administration is humbled to know that the community felt this was a reasonable consideration and that’s what we were going for the entire time,” Crawford said.
Tyler Proud, a community group made up of parents, educators and business owners, was instrumental in getting the word out to voters.
“We feel really excited. We’re really excited about the community support,” Tyler Proud President Mark Randall said. “We feel like the district called the right package when they did and the district really rallied around it. Obviously, it’s needed. We won the election tonight, but really Tyler won the election. It’s the community that decided. Tyler’s children are the winners tonight.”
After applying leftover funds from the 2013 bond, the $198 million high school replacement project is easily near the top of the list of the most ambitious and expensive projects ever undertaken in East Texas.
The package is split into two parts with four teams of architects overseeing the $122 million reconstruction at Robert E. Lee and the $87 million rebuild of John Tyler. A search of the Smith County Historical Society’s archives shows no single construction project in Tyler reaching more than the $10 million Kelly-Springfield plant in 1961, which would be valued about $81.5 million in 2017.
Tyler ISD selected its architecture teams in December. Preliminary contracts contingent upon passage of the measure will automatically take effect, and the firms will begin working on blueprints.
“We’re appreciative of those who have participated in this election, and we hope we can make the community proud,” Crawford said. “We’ll hand the reins over to our director of facilities Tim Loper and Chief Financial Officer Tosha Bjork as we head toward next spring when we break ground on this.”
Corgan Associates is the district’s architect on retainer and has provided the mockups teams will use to begin blueprints.
Corgan and Harris Craig Architects have been retained for construction at Lee.
Stantec Architects and Fitzpatrick Architects have been retained for construction at John Tyler.
The district has ensured architects know what to expect in the new facilities by delivering a high school planning package that outlines room size requirements, technology setups and more.
The first step in construction will be to bury the creek that cuts across the Robert E. Lee property in order to bring Red Raider Drive through to Shiloh Road and eventually shift the campus south.
The district also will begin selling bonds as soon as possible, with an expected August completion.
Finalized blueprints will be presented to the board in November, and the district will release a plan showing which areas will be tackled first.
Both high schools will come in right at 450,000 square feet.
Although John Tyler was 95 percent rebuilt in 1981, it is outdated and not up to modern safety or academic standards. Robert E. Lee is nearly 60 years old and has seen little in the way of improvements to its classrooms.
Robert E. Lee also would see the campus pushed south on its existing property to allow for construction of an internal loop that would help ease traffic congestion.
At Lee, the varsity gymnasium, field house and auditorium would remain, while the rest of campus would be almost totally rebuilt.
Since John Tyler is newer, the district would be able to use more of the campus, including key academic areas and the gyms. The school will gain additional sports fields and a fine arts wing facing Loop 323, creating a new facade for the school. The district’s programming guide calls for close to 20,000 square-feet dedicated to the performing arts center.
Currently the students at John Tyler have a small, theater-in-the-round type space.
Lee also will get a renovated performing arts center. Both auditoriums will include seating for more than 1,000 plus 250 seats in a balcony area that can be used for lecture space.
Both schools also will have a 25,000 square-foot allotment for band, choir, orchestra and other performing arts teaching spaces.
Classroom spaces will be limited to 775 square-feet in most cases, which keeps their capacity at 25 students or fewer. Departments will be grouped together by subject, allowing for math, English or science teachers to be near each other.
The high schools also will have dedicated space for Career and Technology Education prerequisites, including business labs, home economics, agriculture shops, a TV studio and graphics labs and more.
Students will begin using key areas of the facilities as they are completed with an overall completion date expected in 2021.
The current class of fifth-grade students are expected to be the first group to complete all four years of high school in the new facilities.
“Our work doesn’t stop here,” Randall said. “Our work continues on, but it’s a really, really special day for Tyler.”