Tyler ISD looks at bond issue options for aging Robert E. Lee and John Tyler high school campuses

Published on Saturday, 17 December 2016 11:46 - Written by CORY MCCOY, comccoy@tylerpaper.com

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Dozens of Tyler ISD high school teachers have no permanent classroom - no place to settle in and make their own.

For more than 30 years, teachers at John Tyler and Robert E. Lee high schools have inhabited portable classrooms originally designed as temporary spaces.

The buildings stand side by side like military barracks or rec buildings at summer camp.  

Although well maintained, the buildings remain an eyesore, propped up by cinder blocks, air conditioned by window units and joined only by electrical cables that link the classes into small villages far removed from their main campuses.

The 15 buildings at John Tyler and 22 at Robert E. Lee were a temporary solution moved onto the campuses in the 1980s - many of them in 1981 after John Tyler burned.

Since, the highs schools have made do, but Superintendent Marty Crawford said not without consequences. 

“Portables are temporary. Those are not supposed to be a long-term solution,” Crawford said. “It’s a morale killer and concerning for staff. You want teachers to have a collegial environment.”

But the buildings are more than uninviting.

There also are safety and structural issues.

Students are scattered across multiple buildings, creating safety concerns. The buildings leak, and there are ongoing maintenance challenges.

“It’s a logistics issue,” Director of Facilities Tim Loper said. “Safety is one of the issues, then we deal with weather and cleaning. Custodians have a hard time getting up the ramps with equipment.”

Loper and Crawford said the problems at the high schools aren’t limited to the portables.

Crawford said security also is a factor at the high schools. With the current open campus designs, there are numerous entry points, and students are outdoors for long walks between classes. For those headed to portable buildings, the walks are even longer.

“The safety and security of our campuses is going to be a priority,” Crawford said. “The way these schools were constructed is not very 21st century.”

Some of the biggest issues at the campuses are due to outdated infrastructure, such as tangles of wires running across the breezeways at Lee and server rooms that double as maintenance closets, because storing such technology wasn’t an issue when the schools were designed.

Loper said the air conditioning systems at both schools cause issues. Robert E. Lee relies on units crammed on rooftops, which aren’t designed to perform in an environment where every classroom door opens to the outside.

“John Tyler has a two-pipe-chiller system; they don’t use those anymore,” Loper said. “If the system goes down, everyone goes down.”

The schools also have asbestos issues, exposed duct work and drainage problems.

Loper said, while John Tyler was rebuilt after asbestos was banned, the product still made its way into parts of the campus, including the glue under the tile and carpet.

John Tyler suffered a near-total loss during a fire in 1981, and 95 percent of the campus had to be rebuilt. Robert E. Lee’s classroom buildings were constructed in 1958 and have seen little in the way of significant upgrades.

FACILITIES PROPOSALS

During the past decade, Tyler ISD has considered many options for replacing its aging high schools, according to school board President Andy Bergfeld.

“In 2003, we got together a citizens advisory committee to help develop a long-range facilities plan for Tyler ISD and an academic reform system that would kind of parallel that,” Bergfeld said.

In the past few years, discussions focused on, either total replacement of Robert E. Lee and John Tyler high schools, or building three smaller high schools.

At its recent meetings, the board has reviewed plans previously worked up by Corgan Associates, the district’s architecture firm on retainer.

Corgan drafted plans for both renovations of existing facilities and new buildings at various price tags.

New high schools of the same size would cost an estimated $130 million each, while three smaller schools would cost about $100 million each, according to plans presented by Corgan.

According to preliminary estimates, the district might be able to renovate both John Tyler and Lee for just more than $200 million total, saving taxpayers between $50 and $100 million.

Renovations at Lee come out to $122 million and an estimated $87 million at John Tyler, based on the proposals presented by Corgan.

“Cost is a concern, but as you can see (with recent bond packages), we’re going to build a product our town can be proud of,” Bergfeld said. “I think we can do it and come up with a plan that saves money, while getting the best value to get us the type of facility that Tyler expects.”

The district’s last bond issue was $160.5 million and was approved by voters in 2012. It funded construction of three middle schools, the district’s Career and Technology Center and renovations to two elementary schools. 

RENOVATION PLANS

The mock-ups presented to the school board show ways the district could maximize the land it already owns and improve school layout to add classrooms and bring a more contained, protective environment for students.

In the plans presented, Lee would be shifted further south, allowing for changes to traffic flow to alleviate congestion. Red Raider Drive would be extended all the way to Shiloh Road, Loper said.

Baseball and other athletics fields, except the football field, would be shifted toward Loop 323. These moves would make space for an internal roadway looping around the campus.

The new wings proposed for John Tyler also would provide new classroom space and a new face for the school as motorists pass the campus on Loop 323, Crawford said.

All of the proposals presented show the campuses moving away from the open-air breezeways. Students should be able to walk from any room on campus to their next class without leaving the building.

Loper added that renovations would bring major efficiencies.

BOND PROPOSAL

Although the district is leaning toward renovating the existing campuses, Crawford stressed talks are preliminary. The board has not made a decision about proposals and remains in the early stages of planning. However, he confirmed the district is looking for the community’s support to call for a new bond in early 2017.

Crawford said the need to plan early is important because costs rise every six months a decision is postponed. Deteriorating buildings can quickly begin to eat into the district’s maintenance fund, which is about $2 million annually.

“If they aren’t replaced, the community has to look at interim projects. Right now, three cents (of the tax rate) goes to preventative maintenance,” Crawford said.

Crawford said the district can call for a $160 million bond without it affecting the current tax rate. A $200 million bond would see property tax costs rise by $3.26 a month or $39.11 annually for a home valued at $155,000.

Crawford said quality facilities conducive to learning and accommodating of modern technology and teaching methods have a direct impact on academic performance. He added that renovations to the campuses not only would be a cost-effective solution but would preserve tradition and a sense of community around the schools.

“Environment matters, inspiration matters. The children of our community will have that pride instilled,” he said. “If the board and community decide to go with renovations, there are a lot of neat things we can salvage.”

MIDDLE SCHOOLS

Although Tyler ISD has prioritized upgrades to its high schools, school board members said three of the district’s middle schools - Hogg, Hubbard and Dogan - need attention but will not be included in current bond considerations.

 The district’s three other middle schools - Boulter, Moore and Three Lakes - were built with money from the district’s last bond issue and opened in 2015.

Bergfeld said the district has decided to prioritize revamping its middle schools’ programs and curriculum before it commits to building plans or asks the community for money.

“I’m not comfortable continuing our middle school programs at the status quo we’ve had since the ’70s,” Bergfeld said. “With the drastic shift in demographics we’ve had over the past 20 years, what should a middle school look like going forward?”

Bergfeld said the board must determine how each school can best serve its individual community, whether that includes additional magnet schools, changes to sports programs or even initiating more career and technology based learning.

 

Twitter: @TMT_Cory

 

COMMUNITY INPUT

Tyler ISD will host community input sessions:

• 10 a.m. Jan. 14 at Douglas Elementary School

• 10 a.m. Jan. 21 at Boulter Middle School.