The 5-0 vote, with one trustee absent, came after a public hearing in which 19 citizens addressed the board, with the overwhelming majority expressing support for a new school. The board’s other option for a potential bond issue was renovating the current school, which was estimated to cost $12 million.
Approving the bond issue would raise the tax rate by 19.9 cents per $100 valuation, or $169.41 annually on a homestead valued at $100,000. The election will come 18 months after voters soundly rejected a $32 million bond proposal for a new high school (1,468 to 978) in November 2013.
In that election, the proposed high school was among three separate propositions on the ballot, including a multi-purpose building at the high school and improvements at Bruce Junior High School. Superintendent Rick Albritton, who recommended Monday night that the board call the May 9 election, said “many people voted against” all three propositions in 2013 because they disliked the multi-purpose building idea.
Citizens say now they want only a proposal for a high school on the ballot, and the proposal this time is different in some respects from the one which voters rejected, Albritton said. The superintendent, who recently held two town meetings with citizens and a meeting with 15 former school board members, said he recommended another election for a new high school “based on the input I’ve received.”
Citizens and board members Monday night expressed preference for building a new school over the idea of renovating the one which was built around 1950, but has undergone major renovation since. Board member Todd Tefteller, who made the motion to call the election, said that deciding to “patch” the current building would result in an “endless maintenance nightmare.”
Current plans call for a 132,000 square-foot, two-story building to be located on the high school campus west of Buckeye Stadium. The current 90,000 square-foot facility would be demolished, but not the gymnasium, constructed in the 1980s, nor the old vocational school, erected in the 1960s.
School officials contend the current building has problems ranging from inadequacies in security features, the electrical load, science facilities and rest rooms to door openings that do not comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. In addition, they say the 26-year-old roof is nearing the end of its life, and that most HVAC air conditioning units are 15-20 years old.
During Monday night’s public hearing, which was limited to about 40 minutes in the high school auditorium before the board and Albritton discussed the matter, board president Jeff Rash said the hearing was designed to receive input and that trustees would not answer questions during that time.
About 45 people attended the gathering.
The first speaker, Debbie Cannon, said she had visited Gladewater and Kilgore ISD facilities and that Kilgore had remodeled within a few years after Gladewater built a new facility. Gladewater’s “package held up better than what I saw at Kilgore today,” she said.
Cannon also expressed concern about the “safety issue” (security) at the Gilmer High campus.
H.M. (Butch) Ragland, president of the Gilmer Area Chamber of Commerce, said a new high school would raise taxes only $1 per day for some taxpayers and “(I) don’t think you could invest the money any better than” for a modern facility.
Ernie Ritter, a 1964 Gilmer graduate who moved back here in 2013, said he had worked on bond elections and that he thought the current high school building was “in worse shape as far as renovation than any I’ve worked with.” He cited the same problems to which school officials have referred.
But Joe Dodd, who supported the failed 2013 bond issue proposals, said voters might reject a proposed high school which was “relatively close” to the price for the one in that election.
As he had during one of Albritton’s town hall meetings, Dodd urged the board consider the idea of constructing a monolithic dome. He said some who voted against the last bond issue told him they nonetheless thought something needed to be done, and that he was looking for a proposal which voters might accept.
(Later in the meeting, Albritton said he was trying to get information on such a dome. He said schools in Texas generally seemed to use such facilities for arenas.)
Richard Johnson, who opposed the 2013 bond issue, pointed out that while it “overwhelmingly failed,” not that many people in the audience would say there was no need to do something. He complained, however, that the current proposal was the same as the one last time, and expressed fear “it’s going to fail.
“We need to look at all the options,” whether it be a monolithic dome or something else, Johnson argued. He also said the school’s mission statement does not mention “responsibility to the taxpayer. We need to think about them, too.”
Bridget Fowler, a GHS graduate and retired manager of the Gilmer Civic Center, said, “We need a new high school” because “patch on patch is not a good way to go.” She also said she did not mind spending $30 additionally a month in taxes so her grandson could have “pride in learning.”
When one reaches a certain age, she added, that person’s school taxes are frozen.
Fowler said that if someone came to the community to look into economic development, she would be proud to show the person the elementary school, constructed less than eight years ago, but “would be mortified if they asked to come in and tour” the high school.
Elwyn Henderson read a statement from citizen Mary Ann Patterson, saying later in the meeting that he added a few words to it and that he favored the new high school. Henderson said the high school was a “shambles” when he graduated in 1974, and that “interest rates are good right now” for construction.
Alise Nolan said her husband, a commecial painter, had painted several area schools and that “a new school is the way to go,” not a “Band-Aid.”
She said a new building would last at least 75 years, while renovating the current faclity might leave it needing more work in 30.
Buffy Massey, an educator, cited the school’s need for science laboratories and said, “Gilmer has an awesome opportunity” to invest in students’ future. “I don’t think that you can put a dollar amount” on investing, she added.
Another speaker, Jeff Harborth, said, “Taxpayers have to get over themselves” and realize “It’s not about them and the taxes they have to pay. It’s about the children.”
Nick Moore, a former maintenance worker for GISD, said that during his tenure, a disproportionate share of the requests for repairs came from the high school and the then-elementary campus.
“It’s (the current high school) like an old car. There’s a point of diminishing returns,” Moore argued. Saying he was “very much for” a new high school, he said it would benefit the community and that students, teachers and staff members are “worth the investment.”
Former school board member Dean Haws told the board, “I’m in construction. To me, putting Band-Aids on buildings this old is not conceivable. I’m for getting our money’s worth.”
Steve Dean, a former city councilman running for mayor and 1960 Gilmer High graduate, said, “We’ve got to do something” and that “the good choice is to build a new building.”
He said nearly everyone he had heard from favored that. Dean also said that “if you want industry to come and jobs to come” to the community, the board must provide a “vision” for families to move here.
“Yes, it’s going to be expensive, but we need it,” Dean said.
Richard Johnson’s wife, Wendy Johnson, reiterated her husband’s statement that he feared voters would again reject a proposed high school with the same price tag. She expressed hope the board will “maybe look at other options” that will “bring the price down.”
Then the board can tell the community it had “explored other options,” Johnson said. She also said perhaps the board could meet needs in a “less expensive manner” than the $28.5 million proposal.
Another speaker, Helen Johnson, expressed support for a new school, saying that when she worked at the high school, “We mopped up enough water in this building to send off a spaceship.” She also quoted Gilmer graduates as saying it takes them six months to catch up in college because GHS lacks an electrical system to hook up equipment.
Businessman Brandon Dodd said he favored a bond election to bring industry here and better educate students. He also said he would have a “community roundtable” at his firm, Lloyd’s Body Shop, on Texas 154 west of Gilmer at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26 because some people would not come to the school board meeting.
Huey Mitchell told the board it must give “something back to the taxpayers” to vote for something. He said taxpayers would have to pay an extra $30 monthly for a lifetime (Albritton said later in the meeting the extra charge would disappear after 30 years, when the bonds are paid off.)
Mitchell said raising taxes was “fine,” but “you have to have an end date for it.” He said a tax increase would result in passing a “burden” on to today’s children.
W.T. Turner expressed concern that remodeling the current school would eliminate several current classrooms. He urged the board to build the best facilities at less expense if it can.
The final speaker, longtime businessman and 1961 GHS graduate Steve Williams, said the current school has “done its job” and “we need to replace” it. He asked the board come up with “the most economical way.”
In the following discussion between Albritton and the board, he said GISD would seek at least 10 bids on the project, and that only the bonds needed to complete the high school would be sold. If the cost turns out to be $26 million, he said, he did not want the board to spend the other $2.5 million in approved bonds.
Board member Diedra Camp said high school employees had “tears in their eyes about wanting facilities,” and that “I don’t think we’re going to spend one dime more than is absolutely needed.” Trustee Gloria King added the school needed a facility for students who are not college-bound, and that “patching of anything is more expensive” eventually than a new item.
Rash, meanwhile, said he found the costs of renovation “to be staggering.”
With Trustee Mark Skinner absent due to an illness in his family, trustee Kenny Southwell then joined the aforementioned board members in voting to call the election, to be held the same day as the school board election.