Mart Independent School District officials have shuttered the doors of the district’s aging high school — built in 1929 — and are temporarily consolidating three campuses among two facilities this school year to prepare for the district’s largest renovation in decades.
But the districtwide renovation hinges on whether voters approve a bond at the Nov. 7 election, interim Superintendent Len Williams said Monday. The school board has yet to decide on the amount they will seek in the bond, and the district’s tax rate is expected to increase, but the board won’t have final numbers to give residents until Aug. 16, Williams said.
Trustees are waiting to hear back from an architecture firm and construction manager on estimates for a new high school and at least four new classrooms and restrooms for its elementary school, he said. Whatever the number, the bond election will be the largest in the district’s history, he said. The last major bond election in Mart was more than $4 million and built the district’s middle school in 2003, he said.
“One of the reasons (for the consolidation) is financial, we can better utilize our staffing that way,” Williams said. “It’s helped us eliminate about six professional positions and at least two teacher aides or non-professional positions. That’s a huge amount right there, just in salaries.”
The project is expected to be complete by the 2019-20 school year, Williams said. Until then, the district’s 530 students will share space. Seventh- through 12th-grade students have moved to the building that formerly housed the district’s elementary school, but middle school and high school students will their own wings and separate lunch periods. Kindergarten through sixth grade will be housed in what was the middle school, and preschool students have been moved to the district’s former home-economics building, he said.
The old high school was also becoming too expensive to operate and maintain and wasn’t efficient for today’s learning environment, Williams said.
Each classroom at the high school has its own standalone air conditioning and heater, and most of the classrooms are too small, averaging between 500 to 750 square feet each, he said.
The walls are so thick at the high school that in order to get internet service, each room must have its own router and the building only has 67 wall outlets. That’s an issue for teachers and more than 200 students, who each get a laptop provided by the school district, he said. Not to mention the old, two-story high school doesn’t have an elevator for disabled people and has some moisture issues and a leaking roof, he said.
“One of the good things about (this situation), is we had a former student, Mr. J.L. Davis, who gave us $4 million,” Williams said. “That’s a third to a fourth of the (total) cost to do what we want to do. Needless to say, it’s almost a no-brainer in the fact that we’ve got that much money … It’s better than what the state used to do.”
The state used to provide a facilities allotment, but that allotment has since gone away, leaving the district on its own to advance, he said.
Employees spent most of June transferring from one campus to another and teachers return full-time Monday, but some have worked most of the summer to get their classrooms settled, he said. District officials are also working out any kinks in the bell system and intercoms, and both campuses will host open-house events before the school year starts on Aug. 17, principals said.
For high school secretary Laurie Schroeder, the transition is bittersweet. The 1929 building is where her husband and children attended school and it’s where she has worked for more than 20 years, she said.
“I’ve had no other place to sit, except for in that building. It’s an adjustment, and having to go through everything you’ve collected the last 26 years brings back a lot of memories,” Schroeder said. “There are a lot of things that happened in the past that were great times, and we know we’ll have great times ahead of us.”
But Mart High School principal Betsy Burnett said her students may face the toughest transition because most will be returning to a campus they haven’t seen since they were much younger.
“It’s going to be a tough year for (seniors) because they don’t get to look forward to something shiny and new like maybe the seventh- and eighth-graders that hopefully they’ll see before they graduate,” Burnett said. “The seniors are definitely the ones getting the shorter end of the stick. We kind of hope they embrace it and realize Mart High School is a lot more than the red brick building.”
It’s unclear whether the district will tear down or preserve and renovate the old high school, and Williams didn’t want to speculate because he’s only the interim and the choice won’t be up to him, he said. The old high school would have to undergo major renovations if it is to ever operate again, he said. For now, the district is using it for storage.
If the bond passes, final drawings and specifications on the project will take a few months, Williams said. He anticipates construction could start as soon as April 2018.
“We want a whole lot more than what we can probably get,” Williams said. “We want the platinum version, but we will take the golden version. We don’t want to go anything less than that.”