Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

August 5, 2013

Garner ISD: Ready for the future

Mineral Wells Index

— Story and Photos by LIBBY CLUETT

GARNER – Garner ISD has just taken possession of it’s “renewed” school building, now bringing two buildings under one roof.

The additions and work were completed by Gallagher Construction Services, of Plano, serving as the construction-manager agent, and BWA Architects, of Dallas, as project architects.

To reach this point, the district seemed to prove the motto, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Things didn’t go easy for Garner on its road leading to beginning the $2.2 million capital improvement project, which addressed security issues, updated wiring and systems, fixed drainage problems, brought classrooms up to state standards and gave the school a facelift.

Initially, the district asked voters to approve an $8 million project, which they didn’t. The district went back to voters with a scaled-down plan to address immediate needs, bringing the price tag near $2 million.

Garner’s request was denied again, but by two votes; however, there were some discrepancies in the elections process. The board again brought the $2 million bond project to a vote and it passed in May 2012.

In early March, Garner dug in to begin the project. Last Thursday, Superintendent Marion Ferguson assumed the keys and the halls were busy with crews of administrative staff and some former students and friends, hired to help move back in.

The end product noticeably improves safety for students, with updated security and fire-suppression systems as well as some other details.

Long before last December’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, Garner ISD considered many security aspects. After the deadly attack on young Connecticut students, Garner leaders reviewed their plans and designed additional ways to further beef up security.

Among many security features is the front line. When school begins Aug. 26, the doors will remain open for about 30 minutes, perhaps fewer, in the morning. Then, all exterior doors will be locked. Tardy students and visitors will enter through the front door, but will have to be buzzed into the front office, check in with Brenda Reed and be buzzed out through another door, before having access to the school.

In addition, the school has a fence around much of the elementary building and has added security cameras and several methods of monitoring them, including remote monitoring.

One potentially safer area involves addressing security among students, in an area where bullying often occurs. An open wash area, separated from the toilet area, is designed to help teachers better monitor behavior around the sinks.

Ferguson said the goal was to “make the area less likely where [bullying] can happen. Now, teachers have access to better monitor the wash area.”

The project also addressed accessibility as it enclosed two buildings under one roof. Now, all but three classrooms are up to state standards in size. A ramp at the front entrance will not only help students and visitors daily, but Ferguson said it will help during elections, when voters with disabilities come to cast their ballots. The gym – not a major part of the project – also got some attention with improved accessibility.

Visually, the facade informs visitor where to go.

Before, Ferguson said people often asked, “‘Where do I go?’ I think people will be drawn to the main building.”

In addition, he said the enclosed hallways “helps with student flow” and students “now won’t have to get wet” when traveling between buildings.

“It’s now a school plant and not a grouping of buildings,” he added.

While Ferguson notes, “You can see the new construction,” he said there is much more to the project than the eye takes in.

The most amount spent on a single project item – $350,000 – went to drainage, he explained. Now, French drains leading to a large, deep drainpipe will carry away water, all the way to the state park trailway.

The average depth of the deep pipe is around 20 feet, but Ferguson said, “In some places it went 40-feet deep.”

In addition, he said the district spent close to $200,000 on upgrading the electrical system and wiring in the facility. Ferguson said the school had some wiring that was 25 years old, which  “wasn’t appropriate [and] wasn’t designed for this teaching environment.”

Just under $100,000 was spent on finding and updating gas lines and old clay sewage pipes, all of which had to be rerouted.

“There have been so many iterations of Garner School and [sewer pipes and gas lines] remained from all those,” Ferguson said.

The $2 million bond adds 9 cents per $100 of taxable property value, bringing the school district’s tax to $1.10 this year, according to Ferguson. He added that the board of trustees carved out another $200,000 from the district’s fund balance to offset any additional expenses.

Additional furnishings for the building have come inexpensively, through auctions, and one big donation of Hon office storage equipment from Jacobs Engineering. Jacobs, which acquired Carter & Burgess in 2007, did not need its metal filing drawers, magnet boards and cabinets in the Fort Worth office. A trustee, who works for the company, helped engineer the massive donation.

Additional funds have come from a $5,000 Lowes’ grant, which will allow the district to purchase trees and seeding plants, and from a $3,000 Texas Association of School Boards’ grant to improve security.

As classrooms are ready, Ferguson will call teachers, telling them they can come in. He said he locked them out for the summer and told teachers to enjoy their summer vacation.

There are still things Ferguson said the district would like to do. With more money it could add more classrooms. But he said they accomplished what they set out to do – including moving the science center, special education and art classroom out of the oldest building, which still houses district administration.

“I feel we’ve met our commitment to voters and are doing what we said we would do,” he said. “I hope people will see we are a forward-looking community that cares.”