By SALLY SEXTON
Several community members, as part of Weatherford ISD’s Citizens Facility Committee, along with board trustees, met Monday at Curtis Elementary to review findings by the committee in regards to meeting the needs of future growth within the district.
The Weatherford school board met in September to discuss future needs and form the committee, made up of around 40 citizens in the community.
Each committee member was divided into various groups, focusing on elementary capacity, technology needs, security and intermediate and high school grades.
“Our challenge was to meet the projected growth but not increase the expenses or additional land, staffing and utility and maintenance costs,” Joe Tison, head of one of the subcommittees, said.
Of the several suggestions thrown out regarding consolidation at the high school, one idea was to group grades nine through 12 at the current high school facility, with ninth graders attending the Ninth Grade Center on South Main. Grades 10 through 12 currently attend WHS. In addition, grades five and six would serve as an intermediate, and seven and eight together as a junior high.
“Some of the strengths we found was that combining those grades promotes unity, eliminates the competition between Hall [Middle School] and Tison [Middle School], you get a more concentrated pool of talent, it provides a smoother transition from one campus to another and it better utilizes the space at the NGC,” Tison said.
Tison added that by consolidating grades nine through 12 at one campus, it would support more efficient teaching, provide students with equal access to resources and eliminate travel from the Ninth Grade Center to the high school.
“One of the concerns would be that the pick-up and drop-off areas at the high school would be more congested,” Tison said.
Tison said his group’s recommendation to the board regarding a bond proposal for the projects would be to keep it simple.“We need to propose a bond focusing on what is necessary and consider having smaller bonds and planning the elections more frequently, as opposed to asking the public for big chunks at a time,” he said.
Pat Hamilton, of Plains Capital Bank, reported his sub-committee’s findings on elementary capacity, reviewing the size of classrooms, special programs, the use of portable buildings and inspecting core facilities including gymnasiums and cafeterias.
“Most of our elementary schools are at 100 percent capacity right now. That’s a lot of crowding,” he said.
With seven current elementary campuses, at least three are at 100 percent or more capacity. To accommodate, classes are often conducted in alternate areas, such as portable buildings or, in some cases, on the stage.
“We are anticipating a 20-percent increase in student enrollment at the elementary level in the next 10 years,” Hamilton said.
He also noted that a big concern was the fact that security was minimal at some campuses, with a lack of fencing around playground areas at some schools. The elementaries currently serve students from pre-K through sixth grade.
Harry Jones, chief technology officer for the district, introduced a presentation detailing the district’s technology needs, as well as estimated costs.
Jones listed infrastructure—the way data is carried across the network—as a necessity, along with iPad carts and classroom technology upgrades, such as installations of projected units.
Jones’ total estimate for the projects is $11.2 million.
“When I see iPad carts, I think of little carts with wheels, so it blows my mind to see the $3 million number beside it,” one woman said.
Jones explained that though the carts themselves cost around $40,000, 20-30 iPads per cart were also included in the estimate.
“The cart charges the iPads, and also allows the teacher to program each computer for the next lesson,” he said.
Banker Mark Riebe addressed the security needs of the district, including fencing in appropriate areas, as well as general renovation such as updated air and heating units, installing more energy-efficient lighting to comply with state requirements, and flooring, all for an estimated cost of around $19.2 million.
Overall, the meeting produced three propositions by the various sub-committees to address the future needs.
Proposition 1 elected to have pre-K through fourth graders at the elementaries, place fifth and sixth graders at Curtis and Tison as intermediates, group seventh and eighth graders at the current NGC, move ninth graders to Hall and keep the high school at 10th through 12th graders.
Project construction would begin in February of 2014, with a rough estimated cost of $90 million.
Proposition 2 keeps pre-K through fourth graders at the elementaries, moving fifth and sixth graders to Hall and Tison, moving seventh and eighth graders to the Ninth Grade Center and allowing ninth through 12th graders at the high school. The estimated cost, with renovations, would be around $98 million.
Proposition 3 also had pre-K through fourth at the elementary level, moving fifth and sixth graders to Curtis and Tison, having seventh and eighth graders at the current Ninth Grade Center and moving ninth graders to the high school. The estimated cost, with renovations, would be around $108 million.
“We had some ideas of where we wanted to go when we started, but all of this information changes a lot,” WISD board president Charlie Martinez said. “We have some things we’ve got to look at, but we appreciate all the input.”
Weatherford superintendent Jeffrey Hanks suggested scheduling a meeting in January for more discussion before moving forward.