Tyler ISD trustees look at possible $161 million bond package

TYLER (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - Although no bond election will be called until February, the Tyler ISD board of trustees has presented a possible package to the public to gain feedback.

TISD trustees on Monday provided a look at what could be the proposed bond package for a May election. However, trustees emphasized that nothing is final at this time.

The possible package included six projects: remodeling Dixie Elementary School; remodeling Rice Elementary School; building new middle schools at Boulter, Moore and the Three Lakes Parkway property in southwest Tyler; and building a new career and technology center on 25 acres near the Tyler Junior College west campus.

The total estimated price tag for these projects would be about $161 million, an amount that could be funded without a tax rate increase, district officials said.

The board also presented the possibility of building new Rice and Dixie campuses, which would cost a combined $46.5 million, about $14 million more than renovating both campuses.

Monte Robinett, TISD's construction project manager, told board members about how the renovation at both elementary schools could work. He said the district would use the recent renovations at Owens and Birdwell elementary schools as a model.

Under the possible plan, the district would start work on both elementary schools in May 2014. Some components of both schools would be renovated for the start of school that fall.

Work would continue on the buildings as students attended school the 2014-15 year and through the summer. The schools would be completed by August 2015, Robinett said. Remodeling both campuses would cost an estimated $32.5 million combined.

At Rice, the plan would call them to demolish the fifth-grade wing that sits closest to Old Bullard Road. The campus would receive several additions and be entirely enclosed so students would not have to walk outside.

The elementary schools would be built to hold a maximum of more than 900 students, but a preferred or functional capacity of 800, Robinett said.

The six board members in attendance expressed general support for the possible plan, although some had concerns about particular parts of it.

Board President Michelle Carr said the idea of moving Rice to a new location, which was a possibility in the November 2010 bond election, made a lot of parents uncomfortable. She said there are a lot of people who want that school to stay a neighborhood school, which it would under this possible plan.

She said by building a new Moore, that would help decompress the population at most of the TISD middle schools.

Trustee Brad Spradlin said he liked the plan, especially the inclusion of Moore because it would help the district move forward with its long-range plan.

To keep the price tag close to $160 million, the district is considering eliminating arches and other building features that, while aesthetically appealing, are expensive.

Mrs. Carr said the buildings still would be attractive, but just lack some of these extra features.

Trustee the Rev. Orenthia Mason asked about the funding for the renovation of Stewart Middle School to serve as the home for the district's alternative campuses, PACE and Plyler. Stewart would no longer serve as a middle school under the district long-range plan.

Trustee Andy Bergfeld suggested the district use some of the undesignated money left over from previous bond projects — which amounts to more than $12 million — to pay for the Stewart renovation and upgrades at Robert E. Lee and John Tyler high schools. Several board members agreed with the suggestion.

Trustee Eleno Licea said he really likes the idea of bringing Moore into the mix. He said it's the district's biggest middle school, and it needs a lot of help in terms of the facility.

Bergfeld said the possible plan provides a good common sense approach. He said the remodeling of the elementary schools will show taxpayers the district doesn't have to build all brand-new campuses, especially for the newer schools. He also liked the idea of keeping it at its current location.

"I just kept feeling like the relocation of Rice, it never settled well with everyone in the community, and we've got to focus on voter approval," he said.

He said the limited amount of boundary changes to the middle schools and the inclusion of Moore and a career and technology center also are positives. He said although he would like to see work completed on the two high schools, it didn't fit into the package at this time.

Bergfeld was concerned about the dollar amount, saying it was a little high, but said he wants to work with the board and the majority of the board will decide where to go from here.

Mrs. Carr said trustees have received a lot of input about the concerns at the high schools, and they all agree. However, she said, they do not believe they can pass as large a bond package as would be required to do the high schools. She said board members also felt they need more time to develop a plan.

"This package, if it were to be the package, does create benefits for our high schools as soon as this career and technology center is open," she said.

Spradlin said he sees the possible bond package as a first step in being able to improve the high schools.

The Rev. Mason said the board would like to hear from residents regarding their suggestions and what they think of the possible package.

The board will not call a May bond election until February, Mrs. Carr said.

"We are continuing to refine this and discuss it and come to a final conclusion," she said.

In other business, the board approved the sale of the old Jones Elementary School on West Front Street. The board discussed the issue in September and agreed to move forward with the sale but never voted.

The old campus was replaced in 2010 when TISD opened new Jones at 3450 Chandler Highway as part of the 2008 bond package. Mooring said the first order of business will be to get the property appraised and go from there.

The board also met in executive session to review resumes for the superintendent positions. A meeting is called for noon Wednesday, at which time the board may name a lone finalist.


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