Willis ISD bond calls for more schools, new football stadium and aquatics center on May 7

Willis ISD’s 2022 bond package asks voters to consider approving three proposals totaling $225 million in the May 7 ballot for projects including a middle school, elementary school, soccer stadium and aquatic center .

According to an April 2021 report by the demographics firm Population and Survey Analysts, WISD is expected to enroll an additional 6,000 students by the 2030-31 school year, with several schools exceeding capacity by then. This includes Turner and Meador Elementary Schools, Brabham Middle School and Willis High School.

“A second high school is going to have to come into the conversation,” Superintendent Tim Harkrider said in an interview.

WISD trustees voted Feb. 9 to place three proposals on the May ballot that would raise the tax rate by $0.05 per $100 of assessment if all are approved, although one proposal Statewide also on the ballot to increase the homestead exemption could result in a global tax savings regardless.

Proposal A totals $143 million for a college, elementary school, fine arts addition to Lynn Lucas Middle School, baseball and softball diamonds, playground equipment and fields, according to WISD.

Proposal B totals $62.56 million for a football stadium and community hall, and Proposal C totals $19.39 million for a natatorium – or aquatic center – to support the district’s swimming and diving programs . Students are currently required to go to an outdoor pool in Shenandoah.

“If we have these clubs and we have these sports, we should have facilities that come with coinciding sport,” said WISD parent Ashlee Cooper.

Athletics facilities

While projects are still being wrapped up from the $100.1 million bond approved in 2020, Harkrider said replacing the 48-year-old stadium and building an aquatic center were initially discussed in 2020.

Harkrider said the trustees included a stadium in the bond called in May 2020. However, based on the economic conditions at the time, the trustees called a new bond for November 2020 after the May election was postponed, which did not include a stadium and aquatics center as originally approved. .

“This is not a new discussion,” Harkrider said. “Just in two short years with the pandemic, the price escalation is astronomical.”

According to the WISD Bonds 2020 website, the proposal submitted in May 2020 for the upgrade of a stadium and other athletic fields totaled $62.35 million, while the stadium alone is expected to total $62.56 million in 2022. Additionally, the natatorium was $12.5 million in 2020 and is expected to cost $19.39 million in 2022.

Harkrider said the existing Yates Stadium received a “fair” rating in 2020 and was one of the last concrete pier stadiums in Texas, requiring a review every two years and expensive repairs.

“It will never change the condition from fair to good; you’re just extending the life of the stadium,” Harkrider said.

At the March 25 Outlook event in the Lake Conroe area, Harkrider said WISD has spent more than $400,000 over the past six years to fix Yates, which can no longer accommodate the number of spectators.

“Now that we’re in 6A and competing with 6A schools, we need those resources available to our students like other school districts have in order to compete,” Cooper said.

Cara McCollum, owner of Grace Goods Boutique on FM 830 and parent of WISD, said the link would help students have equal opportunities with other schools. She also said she believed the aquatic center included in the link would benefit the school and the community as it would be the first swimming facility nearby.

“That’s one thing that our long-range planning committee really rallied around is that this could really have a positive impact on our whole community, not just swimming and diving,” said Harkrider.

Financial impact

Jeffery Clemmon, director of facilities services at the Texas Association of School Boards, said growing districts have limited funds.

“The way the state funds schools today, they don’t have the funds available through their [maintenance and operations tax] or standard state tax allowance to build new schools, renovate schools [or] even … to properly maintain the facilities they have,” he said. “The only way for them to build new schools, renovate facilities in disrepair, upgrade old or aging building systems is to request a bond proposal.”

Harkrider said bond funds cannot be used for day-to-day operations, such as salaries, which are funded by the maintenance and operations tax rate.

While approval of the bond proposals would result in higher taxes, the district’s rate has decreased from $0.21 since the 2018-19 school year to $1.172 per $100 of assessment in 2021-22. , according to WISD. The tax rate would not increase, however, for residents aged 65 and over who benefit from an exemption. Projects should instead be funded from the operational budget.

“If you vote ‘no’ … you vote ‘yes’ to secondary regimes. … The more money we have to spend on temporary solutions, … the less money we have to go elsewhere,” he said. “For us to grow and prosper as we are, we need to have resources for our students.”

Maegan Kirby contributed to this report.

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