The road to a facilities bond election may finally reach its impasse Monday.
For taxpayers within the Stephenville ISD, two questions have remained since the board voted against calling a May 2010 election - will the board of trustees take the facilities improvements proposition to voters in November, and which of the more than $58 million in suggested improvements will voters be asked to consider?
It appears that following months of planning and re-planning, an almost $34 million bond election could be called next Monday at SISD's regular monthly meeting, when the board is expected to vote on the issue.
At the board's most recent work session, which took place Monday, the latest renovations to proposed improvements to three of the district's six campuses - Chamberlin Elementary, Hook Elementary and Gilbert Intermediate - were reviewed. Also included in the plan is the strategic abandonment of SISD's oldest facility, Central Elementary, where the main building was constructed in 1939.
Reducing the number of campuses will eventually add up to reduced maintenance and operation (M&O) costs for the district, a concern for the board due to sizable additions at the other three lower-level campuses.
Following the most recent revisions, Chamberlin Elementary will undergo an estimated $15.7 million in renovations and serve as the future home of the district's pre-kindergarten - first grade students. Hook would get a facelift with an estimated cost of more than $12 million and be the new home of second - fourth grade students. Gilbert would undergo an estimated $6.2 million in improvements and serve fifth and sixth graders.
Daren Kirbo, of Huckabee & Associates Architects, presented the plans and said they address about 80 percent of the improvements that will repair deficiencies pointed out by an assessment study completed about one year ago as part of the Strategic Planning Process. The plans will also accommodate an increased capacity of more than 500 students.
Kirbo also presented a revised plan for Stephenville High School, which added up to more than $25 million without an indoor practice facility and almost $27.8 million with the addition, making the four-campus improvement cost ring in at more than $59.4 million.
While Superintendent Dr. Darrell Floyd recommended that the board delay the election until May 2011, the five board members present at the work session - Dr. Ann Calahan, Rusty Jergins, Todd McEvoy, Gary Sult and Ora Lee Leeth - decided that after months of planning, it is time to allow voters to decide the fate of the facilities.
Among Floyd's concerns was the fact that all available voting machines will be used at polling places across the county during the governor's election in November, meaning parents and caregivers will not be able to cast early ballots at SISD campuses. Floyd said during a successful 1997 bond election, taxpayers were able to vote on campus.
Floyd also said delaying the election would allow more time to consider the improvements needed at Stephenville High School.
But Kirbo said delaying the election by six months would mean delaying move-in at the newly renovated facilities by one year, to avoid moving students to their new campuses during the middle of the school year.
If construction begins as outlined in the plan, at Chamberlin in June 2011, Kirbo expects that each of the facilities should be ready for move-in by mid-June 2012.
McEvoy said he was comfortable with the proposed elementary improvements and also said while he was one of the board members against calling a bond election just months ago, the issue should now be handed over to voters.
"We need to get this out of the way," McEvoy said.
Sult, who was also opposed to calling an election last May, said he felt good about the "numerous hours" the board has put into the facility issue and was comfortable with the plan for the pre-k - sixth grade students. Sult said in talking with a large number of SISD taxpayers, only four said they would support the complete bond package, while dozens told him they would not support the total plan.
"People are hurting," Sult said, adding that most have said despite economic woes, they will still support the much-needed elementary improvements.
Sult also said the board should consider pushing the high school improvements further down the line.
While Calahan pushed for the May 2010 election, she said she did not want to "deprive students" by putting off the needed improvements for another year.
Leeth said postponing the election would allow more time to present the proposals to the community but also said she was comfortable with forging toward a November election.
See Thursday's edition of the Empire-Tribune for a snapshot of how voter approval could affect school taxes.