Mart Independent School District is starting its school year by asking voters to approve a $9.2 million bond, the largest in the district’s history.

With classes starting Thursday and operations temporarily consolidated from three campuses to two, the school board voted Wednesday night to call for the election.

“If we can get this bond passed, I think the sky’s the limit,” Board President Frank “Pete” Rowe said.

The bond and a $4 million donation from an alumnus earlier this year are expected to pay for a new high school, replacing the 1929 building that was closed over the summer.

In preparation for the bond, high-school and middle-school students are now in the former elementary school building, and the lower grade levels are in the former middle school building.

If voters approve the bond, the district’s tax rate of a little more than $1.20 per $100 of property value would likely increase by 32.5 cents, said Christian Merritt, a financial adviser with Live Oak Public Finance who gave a presentation to the school board Wednesday.

The rate would remain lower than the rate of $1.60 per $100 of value that was in effect between 2000 and 2004. Mart’s tax rate would also remain lower than surrounding districts’ rates, Merritt said.

Low interest rates make now a good time to issue bonds, he said. The district may also be able to refinance its remaining debt from its last bond.

“It’s similar to a home loan. If rates are low, that means you can borrow the same amount of money for less interest expense and a lower payment that goes along with that,” Merritt said. “The way bonds work is a tax rate is applied to your property value to come up with enough money to pay for the bond payment.”

The new high school will be attached to the junior high building and is expected to have at least 20 new classrooms, a state of the art science and technology lab and new vocational areas including an agriculture classroom and a shop area, interim Superintendent Len Williams said. The school will also include a new competition gym that accommodates more than 600 spectators and new locker rooms, according to a diagram of the plan provided by the district.

Two new classrooms and new restrooms will also be added for the junior high, according to the plan. The district will also build three new parking lots around the campus, the diagram shows.

The project is expected to be complete by the 2019-2020 school year if the bond passes, Williams said. The district has put together an impact committee with more than 15 people representing the three counties that touch the district’s boarders to help shape the progress.

Final plans for the project could take a few months after the election, but construction could start as soon as April 2018, Williams said.

“This is a very exciting time for Mart ISD, and it has and been extensively explored,” Williams stated earlier this year. “The possibility for, or even considering this endeavor, would not have taken place without the generosity of the J.L. Davis family and the $4 million gift that will fund a very big portion of this project. The Davis family and the Mart community consider the children of our district the future and believe these individuals deserve the very best opportunity to be successful.”

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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