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FISD makes case for new construction

March 22, 2013

Elbow Elementary Principal Randy Gartman (in blue) talks with Forsan school district residents following a public meeting on the district's proposed $23 million construction bond. (HERALD photo/Steve Reagan)

ELBOW — Forsan Independent School District officials made their case for a $23 million construction bond before a large crowd of district residents at Elbow Elementary Thursday night.

In an almost-packed school gymnasium, FISD Superintendent Randy Johnson, school trustees, administrators and consultants made a presentation on plans for the bond money, which include building a new elementary campus to replace Elbow.

Considering the bond is projected to add 33 cents to the district's tax rate, it was not surprising that a lot of questions directed at officials had to do with the plan's price tag, but other concerns raised during the meeting ranged from transportation issues to what will become of the Elbow campus if a new elementary is constructed.

FISD voters will decide May 11 whether to approve the proposal. Items to be financed by the bond package include:

• The new elementary campus, which will be located adjacent to the junior high/high school building in Forsan.
• A wastewater treatment plant
• Safety and security renovations at the secondary campus, including installation of a locking system for the exterior doors which can be operated remotely and a remake of the main entrance to enhance security against unwanted visitors.
• Expansion of the secondary campus to accommodate extra classroom, lab or storage space.
• Major plumbing and electrical renovation at the secondary campus.
• Renovation of the kitchen area at the secondary campus.
• Safety upgrades in the secondary campus' metal shop.
• Expansion of the district's bus barns to accommodate vehicles currently parked at Elbow.
• A fire-suppression system for the new elementary campus.
• Resurfacing of the track at the football stadium.
• Replacement of one of the district's tennis courts.
• Increased storage area at the band hall.

Jason Hughes of 1st Southwest, the financial firm advising FISD on the bond issue, stressed the 33 cent increase in the tax rate is merely an estimate at this time.

“Hopefully, that will turn out to be a very conservative estimate and actually it will be lower,” he said.

FISD Trustee Lewis Boeker said he understood people's hesitance to vote themselves a tax increase.

“That's a lot of money,” Boeker agreed. “But we think it will end up being money well-spent and serve the district well.”

For Boeker, the decision to call for the bond election hinged on two issues — safety concerns raised by Elbow's location 12 miles from Forsan and the increasing costs associated with maintaining an aging elementary campus.

“The safety issue was the most important one for me,” he said. “Elbow is practically on an island out here. We have been very fortunate to not have had any major issues in that regard, but with everything going on in the nation, you think something bad is not going to happen here, but you never know.”

From an economic standpoint, maintaining the Elbow campus is reaching a point of diminishing returns, Boeker said.

“We've put a lot of money into maintaining these facilities,” he said. “But when we looked at the overall picture, it just made more sense for us to build a new campus.”

A new elementary would cost $14 million to construct, compared to approximately $9 million to renovate the existing campus. Trustee Chris Evans said it made more sense to simply spend the additional money and address all the district's needs at the same time.

“Elbow is in need of major renovation,” Evans said. “To me, if the community is going to invest that much money, it would be a good idea to move everything to Forsan. It makes sense both financially and for security reasons.”

A down side to relocating the elementary campus is that many district students will have more travel time to and from school. Johnson said that problem would be unavoidable to a large degree, but added the district would do everything it can to smooth out transportation issues.

As for questions about what would become of the Elbow campus if a new elementary is constructed, Johnson had no answers.

“It's too early for any of us to commit to specific plans for the campus,” Johnson said. “All I can say is what we won't do — we won't let it fall apart — and we will try to use it for educational purposes.”

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