GRAFORD – With an aging campus and issues that come with that, Graford ISD officials are hopeful district voters will green light construction of a new $49.6 million school.
The proposition is before GISD voters on the Nov. 5 ballot. Early voting begins Oct. 21.
Superintendent Dennis Holt said when the board looked at repairs and renovations to the current campus to deal with aging pipes, electrical work, HVAC issues and other improvements the costs were approaching that of constructing a new, modern school with a standalone auditorium, new physical education and competition gyms and ag barns.
“It came down to, in the board’s opinion, what the estimates were for renovations and additions versus the cost of a new campus,” Holt said. “They said let’s look at a new campus. When they looked at additions and renovations, the value was to build new and have everything the same age and starting with a clean slate.”
The age of the current pre-K to grade 12 school depends on which part of it your standing in, Holt said. The central portion, which houses the cafeteria, was built in 1939. There have been additions and wings created in the 1950s and the 1970s.
With 350 students, the district is utilizing several detached portable buildings for students and the district’s technology director.
“One thing is that we want everything inside so that we don’t have kids going outside to classes,” Holt said. “I hate having kids out in the portables for many, many reasons.”
He said some classrooms have over 20 students in a 500-square-foot room – the state standard is at least 800 square feet.
“Our buildings have been piecemealed and added on to,” Holt said. “We’ve just circled the wagons.”
The school board earlier this year engaged Huckabee Architects that first looked at needs and costs for the current campus building – which totaled $35.6 million Holt said. At the board’s direction, the architects then looked at plans and costs for building a new school that could eventually house 550 students with up-to-date technology, security and energy-efficient systems and a tornado shelter large enough to accommodate the entire student body.
If approved, the plan is to build the new school on some of the 60 acres of land acquired a couple of years ago by the district located just west of the new athletics complex.
Holt said a survey of district residents this summer resulted in 140 responses, and he said most were favorable to building a new campus.
The superintendent said they have not begin discussing what they would do with the current campus should the bond pass and the new school open as scheduled in the 2022-2023 school year.
“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” Holt said. “We would want to utilize what we can and re-purpose it for whatever we can that will be beneficial to the district.”
While the district has not performed a growth study, Holt said in 2010-11 Graford had 289 students compared to now 350 students nearly a decade later.
“Every year we show a nice, steady increase,” he said. “We have seen that 1% to 2% growth every year. Right now my middle school classes are the largest.”
The district has two bond issuances it is currently paying off. One is a 2000 issuance that added two wings for the elementary school and created enclosures. That 30-year bond is to be paid off in 2030.
A 20-year bond issuance in 2013 added a new front entrance to the building, a kitchen, a high school science lab, created the athletics complex and paid for other improvements.
The district’s current tax rate is $1.04 per $100 taxable property valuation. That is a 7-cent drop from the prior year’s rate, the result of the state’s property tax and school finance reform initiatives. The current rate includes 97 cents that goes toward maintenance and operations costs, and 7 cents to repay the current bond debt.
If the school bond passes Nov. 5, the district says the tax rate would increase 26-29 cents to a maximum of $1.3365. District officials that means for a home valued at $100,000, factoring in a $25,000 homestead exemption, its GISD tax bill would increase $158 annually as a result of the new bond, or $13 a month. For a $300,000 home, the annual increase would be $579, or $48 a month.
Holt said they have proposed a 25-year note for the new bond if approved.
If the bond proposal fails, he said the board will need to look making repairs and updates to the current school campus. He said, for instance, the 2013 bond replaced about a third of the campus’ HVAC system. He said the other two-thirds are starting to fail.
“If voters say no to the bond, we will go back with the board and look at where some of the priorities are and what is needed,” Holt said.
Graford ISD is a recapture district that before this year was sending 70 percent of its property tax revenue – about $7 million – back to the state.
The superintendent understands a problem some people have with the bond proposal is the fact the elementary school (grades 3-5) received an overall failing grade from the Texas Education Agency in the 2019 accountability ratings. Based on its standardized student test scores, the elementary portion of the district received grades of F for student achievement and school progress, and a low D for closing the gaps.
Graford High School earned a high C overall, with a B for student achievement and C’s for school progress and closing the gaps.
Overall the district received a grade of C, an improvement from the previous year’s D.
“It has come up,” Holt said of the elementary campus’ failing scores. “There are folks at the meetings who have said, ‘You have a campus that is F rated, why we should be putting more money into a district that has a failing school?’’
He said the district immediately began addressing the elementary campus grades and says he expects those will be improved long before the new would open.
“To me that is two separate topics,” Holt said. “Yes those scores were not good. We tell those students that’s all right. We dust ourselves off. We hit the ground running from Day One. We started addressing those students one-to-one, or in small groups.”
Holt did agree that facilities do matter when it comes to education.
“Environment, to me, it all works together, that school climate, that school environment,” he said. “It goes hand in hand. Technology, internet, equipment, it is conducive to learning. We don’t plan on still being an F-rated campus by the time this new building is built.”
Beginning Oct. 21, early voting will take place at the Graford ISD board room and at the Palo Pinto County Courthouse and courthouse annex in downtown Mineral Wells. There are just over 1,700 registered voters within the district in Palo Pinto County. GISD extends into a portion of rural southwest Jack County.
The district has conducted two public informational sessions about the bond proposal and has two more scheduled. The next one is 6 p.m.on Thursday, Oct. 24, at the Graford ISD cafeteria. The last one is 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29, at the Possum Kingdom Chamber of Commerce, 362 N. FM Road 2353.
“I feel that our voters are really looking at it, and are getting the facts,” Holt said. “I want to answer any questions they have. No matter how they vote we just want them to vote and be informed.”
Information about the school bond election is available at https://www.grafordisdbond.net/.