A Mart Independent School District alumnus presented a $4 million donation Thursday for a new high school.

The gift from Mart native James Lee Davis, 90, was a monumental moment, Interim Superintendent Len Williams said.

“Needless to say, this donor’s generosity is going to carry us a long way to helping all of our children for many, many years to come,” Williams said. “We’ll build new classrooms, elementary, middle school wing, high school. We’re going to hit all of it. Our donor is very interested in math and science so we’ll make sure the academic wings of it are in place.”

The main high school building was built in 1929 and retrofitted in 1980, said Williams, who is also the city of Mart’s mayor.

“Needless to say, it’s very much outdated,” he said. “As beloved as it is, and I taught in it for nine years myself, it has served its purpose. It’s time to upgrade.”

Davis’ daughters, Sandy Davis Maddox and Lori Davis Winter, presented the check to the school board.

“This is a very special thing for him,” Maddox said. “It was going to be hard for him to stay and not be a little emotional about it because it’s that big of a deal to him. He keeps calling me and saying, ‘Are you going to say this? Are you going to say that?’ ”

Maddox said her father has told her the city and school district were important influences in his life.

“He truly means that, where sometimes we just say those kinds of things,” she said.

For teachers

Maddox said her father has been considering the gift for a long time. The family researched the school district and the district’s future before finalizing the decision, she said. The gift is first and foremost for the teachers, she said.

“He once said that he was 18 or 19 years old, and I don’t know whether this was true or not, before he ever went more than 20 miles outside Mart, Texas,” she said.

Maddox said her father hopes this gift will help foster a love of learning in the community and provide classrooms of the future.

“Because of the field where my dad is, in oil and gas and engineering, he would really, really, really like to see more students who will choose math and science and the kinds of new diplomas and plans we have because these are areas of shortage in the United States,” she said.

The family still wants the new campus to be called Mart High School, but they are requesting a small dedication to Davis, Maddox said.

A packed room of educators, former students and community members attended Thursday’s meeting.

“Usually when you have this many people at a school board meeting it’s not a good thing,” School Board President Frank “Pete” Rowe said, receiving laughs from the crowd.

Rowe said the gift will enable the district to build what the children need to be competitive with everyone else.

“This is an awesome moment. This is an unprecedented moment in the history of this community,” he said. “We’re indebted to you.”

Over the years, the district’s enrollment has fluctuated. When the numbers dip, so does state money for operations and maintenance, Williams said. The district now has 10 buildings and 527 students, and its tax base remains small, he said.

“Four million will take us a long, long way in building a new facility and upgrading just about everything we have,” Williams said.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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