School officials: Elbow has to go

FORSAN — School officials here believe it's time Elbow Elementary received an honorable retirement.The school was first constructed in the early 1930s, replaced two decades later and renovated several times since then. Despite all the upgrades, however, structural issues and simple age have conspired to render the building practically obsolete, educators say.The solution FISD administrators have devised is a $23.8 construction project, subject to voter approval this May, which will replace Elbow with an elementary campus in Forsan, as well as funding renovations at the secondary campus.FISD Superintendent Randy Johnson said the idea of replacing Elbow began percolating several years ago.“It's developed slowly over a period of time,” said Johnson, who began his career with the district as Elbow principal. “Over the years, we've dealt with so many issues at the school, such as plumbing and other utility work, that the school board started responding to our repair requests with, 'At what point do we get where we're throwing good money after bad?'”One problem facing the building is that it is almost literally bursting at the seams.“Our student population has remained stable over the years, but the number of programs we offer have increased,” Johnson said. “We've added pre-kindergarten and expanded our special education and computer technology programs. Every room at Elbow is taken — there are no empty spaces at all.”Another shortcoming is in the area of security — the campus does not have a secured entry system to keep outsiders away from classroom areas and the alarm system is outdated, Johnson said.The campus has been renovated several times since the current building was constructed in the early 1950s, most recently in 2004. However, things have reached a point where further repair is no longer financially feasible, Johnson said.“Plumbing and electrical are two areas where we're spending chunks of money,” he said. “The major thing now is that our major plumbing problems are located under the building, which means we would have to dig up the floor and the base of the building to fix the problems. And the electrical systems we need to replace are embedded in walls full of asbestos, which opens up a whole range of other problems.”But a highly visible problem might be the most pressing.“In that building, when there's a dust storm outside, the dust storm comes inside, as well,” Johnson said. “You can stand on one end of the main hall and have difficulty seeing the other end of the hallway.”Sealing Elbow against dust and other weather elements has been an ongoing struggle, Johnson said. In the most recent attempt, the district installed a Duralast membrane over the ceiling in 2004, but even that proved to be insufficient to keep the dust outside, Johnson said.Weatherproofing the building and performing other needed renovations, including a library expansion, new gymnasium and additional classroom space, has been estimated to cost slightly more than $9 million.“But we would still be left with the 1950s core of the building,” Johnson said. “And that estimate doesn't take into account a wastewater treatment facility (the Texas Environmental Quality Commission) says we have to build.“We have tried very hard to remain objective about which way to go,” he added. “But when the EQC requirement came in, that was the tipping point … Was it a good building for the time it was constructed? Yes. It's just not a good building for now.”A facility committee comprised of district residents and educators was formed last fall and studied the main issue of renovation vs. replacement. Earlier this year, it recommended to the school board that a new elementary campus be built adjacent to the secondary campus in Forsan.The proposed new campus, which would cost approximately $14 million, would feature two pre-kindergarten classrooms, as well as four classrooms apiece for grades kindergarten through fifth. Also included would be spaces for a nurse's station, diagnosticians, a library/resource room, gymnasium, cafeteria and outside play area.The $14 million price tag would include all the equipment and associated costs for the new campus, including furniture, road work, parking lots and computer technology requirements, Johnson said.Another advantage to the new building, Johnson said, would come with its proximity to the secondary campus.“That will help with everything from secondary students mentoring elementary kids to teachers and administrators from both campuses being able to interact more efficiently,” Johnson said.If voters approve the bond, officials hope to have the new campus ready to receive students at the start of the 2014-2015 school year, he added.