Other than Albritton, 12 persons attended the third and possibly final such town hall meeting concerning the bond issue. But unlike the previous hearings, which drew very low attendance, Albritton encountered criiticism of the $36.2-million bond issue package from a handful of those present.
Complaints ranged from the total amount of money involved in the proposed issue’s three propositions, to criticism of the third proposition on the ballot—a proposed multipurpose facility at the high school. It would be approved only if both it and Proposition One—a proposed new $30 million high school—pass. (Proposition 2 is for new classrooms at Bruce Junior High.)
If all three propositions pass, the school’s tax rate would rise 25.35 cents, to $1.44 per $100 valuation—a 21.2 percent hike, according to Albritton. (He had said at Tuesday’s hearing the increase would be 14-16 percent, but corrected that figure Thursday.)
Early voting opened Monday, and Albritton said Thursday that he believed 333 persons had voted early as of Wednesday at either the school or the Upshur County Courthouse. The state has approved adding three hours for early voting Sunday (11 a.m.-2 p.m.) at the school administrative office, 500 S. Trinity, and early voting is taking place weekdays from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. both there and at the courthouse through Nov. 1.
Mobile early voting, which has also been taking place on some school campuses, is scheduled at the following campus locations: the Elementary School foyer Monday from 5:30-8:30 p.m. during Parents’ Night; the Intermediate School foyer for the same hours Tuesday during Parents’ Night; the high school cafeteria 4-8 p.m. Thursday during the junior high football game nearby; and the cafeteria 5-7 p.m. Friday before the Gilmer-Bullard varsity football game.
Tuesday’s town hall, which lasted about an hour and 45 minutes, began with Albritton showing the half-hour video of School Board President Jeff Rash explaining why the board had proposed the bond issue. Criticism of the package soon surfaced during the question-and-answer period which followed.
Tiffany DeGala complained that “it was just too much to ask the community at this time for such a huge commitment” of $36.2 million. She also said she had thought the proposed multipurpose facility was “silly.”
Earlier, Wendi Johnson cited the bond issue’s “overall price tag” in observing, “My concern is, that’s a huge, huge amount of money for such a small rural community to take on.” She said assuming such debt had caused “a struggle financially” for some communities, adding that currently, “people feel insecure about their employment” and don’t know what their healthcare costs will be.
In addition, citing the $2 million cost of the multipurpose facility, Mrs. Johnson said, “For me, that’s very frivolous. . . Who really needs that?”
“That money has to come out of our family budget” and “that’s not really a need,” she objected. She said that a family, industry or a wealthy ex-Gilmer Buckeye athlete could contribute the money for such a structure.
Mrs. Johnson additionally complained that it “doesn’t seem like we’ve had a lot of time”to consider the bond proposal. And her husband, Richard Johnson, added that “I think the timing’s terrible” for the election.
He asked Albritton “is there not a way” to give the school what it needs for less than $36 million.
Responding to Wendi Johnson, Albritton said the bond issue is “a personal decision for every taxpayer.” However, if the school delays building new facilities, the time may come when the district can’t afford them at all, he said.
“It’s a need. There’s no question about it,” Albritton contended. While a new high school is estimated to last 70 years, he said, he estimated that renovating the current facility would cost $16 million and only extend the structure’s life by perhaps 15 years.
Replacing the current roof and air conditioning system alone would cost $6 million, he said.
Albritton also said that, in his opinion, the bond issue proposal “is the best solution at this point in time.” He said that without renovating the current high school, especially its science facilities, the district could not fulfill new state-required graduation requirements.
And local attorney Peggy Garmon commented that renovation would not solve the problem of inadequate science laboratories.
“Everybody agrees we need a new facility,” but people are concerned about their incomes, Albritton said. However, he earlier had said that current construction costs “are good” and that interest rates are low.
As for the multipurpose facility, Albritton had said earlier (in responding to a question submitted by a Mirror reader) that he “would imagine” the building would be lit for the public to walk at night, and that a practice field for extracurricular activities would be only “one of the uses.”
He said such a covered practice field isn’t uncommon in schools, noting that Sulphur Springs, Farmersville and Greenville each have one. The local proposed structure, for use in “severe weather” such as thunderstorms, would not be air conditioned, but would have an attic fan-type system, the superintendent said.
As for the amount of time given the public to consider the bond issue, Albritton said the school had posted agendas since December for meetings of an advisory committee which had input on the bond proposals. He also said there was a “12-month process” leading up to the election. (On Thursday, he told The Mirror it was actually 2 1/2 years.)
The superintendent also told the town meeting he had communicated information “every way I can,” and “I think this discussion is what it needs to be.”
Citing a recent advertisement in The Mirror saying that taxes would increase if the bond issue passes, Albritton said, “This isn’t a Rick Albritton decision. . . This is a community decision.”
“It’s not my job to convince you. It’s my job to put it in front of you for a decision,” he added.
When The Mirror asked why architectural drawings of the proposed improvements were not done before the board called the election, and whether they would be completed before election day, Albritton said there was no reason to have the architect do that since planning comes after approval of the bond issue, and drawing earlier would entail an “unknown expense.”
The current drawing of the proposed 2-story, 122,000- square-foot high school by Longview architect Phil Thacker is only a “concept” drawing (which is subject to change), the superintendent added.
Since GISD has said the building was needed partly due to the current high school’s leaky roof, The Mirror also questioned Albritton about the fact that the Elementary School, which is less than 10 years old, also leaks and asked what would be done to prevent that in the new high school.
“Every major building that is built is going to develop leaks,” he responded. He said the current high school roof is “at the end of its life,” will leak worse, and that it would have to be replaced at a “significant cost.”
As for the relatively new Elementary School leaking, Albritton said some problems there were “warranty issues” (such as flashing not being installed in some places) which were repaired without cost to the school.
As for another question submitted by a Mirror reader—why the school was proposing the bond issue when it lacked enough funds for textbooks—the superintendent said “we do have enough money” for books. If there aren’t enough books to go around, he said, it was “not reported to me.”
Some of the discussion involved expenses related to the high school’s football program, including the $2 million recent renovation of Buckeye Stadium. Complaining that the school’s priorities were out of order, Madaline Barber asked Albritton, “Why did we do the football cathedral before we did the academics?”
The superintendent replied that the school had “been working on this (bond issue proposal) before we did the football thing.” While the stadium project was financed by tax maintenance notes which could be paid off with ticket revenue from football games, the bond issue proposals couldn’t be financed that way because the project cost was too high, he added.
Albritton also said that when he became superintendent 12 years ago, a new Elementary School had to be built. It was approved in a 2003 bond issue election and, noting that GISD voters had turned down several past bond issue proposals for a new high school, Albritton said he thought it was better to “wait at least 10 years” for another bond issue election after 2003.
He furthermore noted that Pine Tree ISD spent $16 million on its new stadium, while Gilmer spent $2 million to renovate its facility.
The superintendent also said that some people falsely claimed “I hid money” to build the current stadium field house, but that the facility wasn’t built until all other scheduled projects were done.
“People have said that I took money from (the bond funds approved for) the Elementary (School) to build the field house,” Albritton said, denying that charge. “The field house was replaced because the other (old) field house was absolutely horrid,” and staph infections among its users have dropped 300 percent since moving into the current facility, he said.
“Everybody says we spend a lot of money on football,” but the school also spent $235,000 for five extra math teachers, the superintendent added.
Morris Garmon asked if the same architect would be used for the bond issue projects as was used for the stadium project and Elementary School (Thacker). Saying he disliked the stadium renovation, Garmon asked if the public would have input on the new high school’s appearance.
Albritton replied the school would start with an academic planning group, but that the community would “have input on design.” When someone asked if the new school would have an auditorium, Albritton said it would have one comparable to the current one, seating only 250, but with a full-size stage.
An 800-seat auditorium would have added $6 million to the project cost, which would not have been “a wise decision” since the community has a Civic Center, Albritton said. Garmon replied that he could see using the funding planned for the multipurpose building for an auditorium instead.
While the bond issue came under fire, it also had some support during the hearing as one man said the school could spend $16 million on renovation or “invest that money down the road” for “good-looking schools, good education” which draws things to the community. He also said construction “costs are going to continue to rise.”