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City open to developers' ideas for Floyd Casey site
 Rhiannon Saegert  / 

Potential developers have until November to submit proposals for their vision of the former Floyd Casey Stadium site.

The city officially started accepting proposals after a meeting with potential developers Tuesday. City Economic Development Manager Kent George said the city is seeking a plan that includes residential development, with room for some commercial and office space, while prioritizing connections to neighboring trails and sidewalks.

“The big three obviously is residential, a bit of commercial and connectivity with respect to the park land that’s already there,” George said.

Developers will need to incorporate the South Waco Community Center and walking trails that are near the site. The site also includes a track facility formerly owned by Baylor, now managed by the city and used by various schools.

“We’re open to ideas,” Interim Parks and Recreation Director Jonathan Cook said. “We spent city funding looking into doing this, but we do not want that to squash creativity that we can generate from what your proposal may be.”

The 105-acre site also includes a 4-acre slice in Beverly Hills city limits.

“In the future, we would like to be able to connect downtown to these neighborhoods to the west,” George said. “We’re still in the process of finalizing the vision of how they would be connected.”

The idea of connecting Floyd Casey to downtown predates the Imagine Waco Downtown Development plan created in 2010. The city’s master plan includes a connection from Mary Avenue to the stadium site and other neighborhoods created by converting former railroad tracks into a path for pedestrians and bicycle riders.

“It’s been a long-term vision for a long time,” said Melett Harrison, the city’s executive director of economic development. “But having this redeveloped, I think, will spur that.”

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file  

Baylor University demolished Floyd Casey Stadium in 2016, after moving into McLane Stadium two years earlier. The site is now owned by the city of Waco, which is accepting proposals for redevelopment.

Senior parks planner Tom Balk said city staffers have been informally discussing connecting Mary Avenue, which is slated to become a pedestrian-focused “festival street,” to the Floyd Casey site for years.

“Since that planning effort there’s been a lot of ideas about how we stretch that corridor,” Balk said. “When the Floyd Casey opportunity first came up five years ago, people started to think ‘What if that festival street, that trail corridor, stretched all the way to Floyd Casey?’ ”

He said the city has not yet determined the best way to connect the two, and the final version will not necessarily follow Mary Avenue straight to Floyd Casey. He said the city would wait to see how the Floyd Casey site is going to be developed before making concrete plans for the corridor.

“Waco Creek is a great opportunity, but there are some challenges along Waco Creek,” Balk said.

The route would connect Bell’s Hill Park, Cotton Palace Park and other parks facilities.

The Floyd Casey site came under city control in 2016, when Baylor University traded it for a 5-acre tract near Interstate 35 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, in the shadow of McLane Stadium. Baylor moved its football home from Floyd Casey to the newly built McLane Stadium in 2014 and demolished Floyd Casey Stadium before the trade with Waco.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Aspiring musicians line up outside the Waco Convention Center for a chance to audition for “American Idol.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Caleb Kanawyer, 9, of Woodway, waits inside the Waco Convention Center for his chance to play “Johnny B. Goode” for “American Idol” judges. Officials told him he’d have to wait until he was 15.

Jerry Larson  

Brenden Beam of Houston sings as he waits outside the Waco Convention Center for his chance to audition for American Idol.

Riesel ISD safety official arrested over commission flap
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

Riesel Independent School District’s first safety director was arrested on campus Tuesday after a Texas Ranger investigation concluded he was acting as a police officer without an authorized agency to carry his peace officer’s commission.

Jeffrey Reid McNair, 46, was booked into McLennan County Jail on Tuesday morning on a warrant obtained by Texas Ranger Jim D. Hatfield Jr. that charges him with impersonating a peace officer, a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

McNair started as Riesel ISD’s first director of school safety in June. Riesel Superintendent Brandon Cope told the Tribune-Herald at the time that the district was finalizing paperwork with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement that would make McNair the chief and sole officer of the 675-student district’s new police department.

“This will be a full-fledged new department, the first one that I’ve been a part of, but it is going very well and we look forward to a good experience,” Cope said in June.

However, Hatfield’s arrest affidavit states that while McNair is a licensed police officer, no agency is carrying his peace officer’s commission, which is required before an officer can perform official duties. A check with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement found Riesel ISD is not recognized by TCOLE, “and no application has been submitted for approval to establish a Riesel Independent School District Police Department,” according to the affidavit.

In an email response to questions Tuesday, Cope wrote that the school district has been “working on the application process.” He did not offer any timeline for the process but said the district is cooperating with law enforcement.

“Out of respect for the individual employee in question and because there is an ongoing law enforcement investigation concerning this matter, I have no further comment on the criminal charge or the circumstances leading up to the charge,” Cope wrote. “The safety and well-being of our students is our top priority, and we have no reason to believe that any Riesel ISD student or staff member was placed in harm’s way as a result of the actions of the employee in question.

“At this time, the Riesel ISD Board of Trustees has declared its desire and intent to establish a district police department to add an additional layer of safety and protection for our students, and the district intends to submit its application to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement in the near future.”

Hatfield wrote in the affidavit he was contacted by Riesel Police Chief Danny Krumnow, who reported one of his officers saw McNair wearing a uniform “identifying him as a police officer on Riesel ISD campuses and other locations within the city,” court records state. Krumnow declined comment Tuesday on McNair’s arrest.

On Aug. 21, the officer spotted McNair wearing a uniform with a police badge, duty belt, handgun and a Taser while directing traffic in front of a Riesel school at 600 E. Frederick St.

The affidavit states TCOLE Lt. Gary Connella confirmed McNair was not commissioned by a police agency, that no application had been filed to establish a Riesel ISD Police Department, and that no one from Riesel ISD had contacted him about filing an application.

McNair told Hatfield his commission was not being carried by a law enforcement agency and that he had not worked as a police officer since last year, according to the affidavit.

McNair said he had all the paperwork required to establish a police department but had not submitted it and had not contacted TCOLE about establishing a police department, according to the affidavit.

McNair was released Tuesday on $5,000 bond.

McNair previously worked as assistant chief for the Dallas County Marshal Service and as an officer with the Allen Police Department.

The Riesel school board approved the development of the one-man police department in May.

Transformation Waco principals vow to improve school ratings
 Brooke Crum  / 

Transformation Waco school principals offered numerous solutions to improve their students’ performance and their schools’ overall ratings from the state at Tuesday night’s board meeting.

Two Transformation Waco schools, J.H. Hines Elementary and G.W. Carver Middle, received F’s for their 2018-19 state accountability ratings, which are largely based on state standardized exams scores. The other three schools in the in-district charter partnership with the Waco Independent School District — Alta Vista Elementary, Brook Avenue Elementary and Indian Spring Middle — received C’s.

Transformation Waco CEO Robin McDurham said she believes the high turnover at both Carver and Hines last year led to their failing grades. That is why this year the in-district charter recruited 16 teachers to train and pay to earn their master’s degree, as long as they stay with Transformation Waco for at least five years.

“I think we were too far down the road in realizing where our struggles were to catch them,” McDurham said.

The purpose of the five-school charter system created under the authority of a 2017 law, which advanced as Senate Bill 1882, was to prevent the closure of the five Waco ISD schools that failed state accountability ratings for five consecutive years. It just completed its first year in a three-year contract with Waco ISD to improve student success.

Transformation Waco schools received additional funding to improve student outcomes, and schools rated as failing that join a partnership like Transformation Waco’s are eligible to receive a two-year reprieve from state penalties, which can include closure or replacement of the district’s school board.

Administrators worried mostly about how Brook Avenue Elementary would perform this year because it was the only school in the Transformation Waco zone not to come off the state’s failing schools list the previous year. Principal Julie Sapaugh said teachers and staff focused on improving students’ academics this past school year, which is what helped bump Brook Avenue up to a C. The school increased its overall score by 20 points.

Sapaugh said 71% of students showed academic growth, ahead of the district’s rate of 65%. The goal for this year is to increase reading and math scores by 80% and continue to increase the school’s overall grade by making sure students and teachers come to school and by retaining quality teachers.

All five principals vowed to aim for a student attendance rate of 97%, to decrease the number of behavioral problems and to focus on improving the grades of students learning English.

J.H. Hines Elementary and G.W. Carver Middle saw their overall scores decline 18 and 20 points, respectively. The other three Transformation Waco schools saw some improvement. Alta Vista Elementary School and Indian Spring Middle School both saw their overall scores increase by one point.

J.H. Hines Principal Elijah Barefield told the board members they would never see an F rating at his school ever again and took complete responsibility for the failing grade.

“I’m tired of excuses,” he said.

Barefield said he spent all summer working on ways to turn the school around, including holding monthly meetings with parents and rewarding perfect attendance weekly. He plans to focus on improving reading scores for fourth graders, while also increasing fifth graders’ performance in math and reading. If students begin to struggle, teachers and support staff will intervene earlier in the year and begin tutoring as early as next month, he said.

Nine of the 16 new teachers or “interns” the Transformation zone recruited this year are at Hines. But Barefield said their energy is contagious, so contagious they often keep him at school late planning.

“The attitude is already changing around Hines, and I think as long as we continue and keep that energy we’re going to have a much better year than we did last year,” he said.

Board president Malcolm Duncan Jr. commended Barefield for owning the F and coming up with a smart plan to prevent any future Fs.

“To see what you’ve done in the last two months is really encouraging,” Duncan said. “I’m inspired.”