The Sherman Independent School District’s Citizens Advisory Committee met Tuesday night with the goal of finding common ground on possible bond building projects meant to address the district’s aging and crowded facilities, as well as those projects’ costs.
The committee heard from technology and architectural consultants throughout their conversation and deliberated on two different bond package scenarios, both of which totaled roughly $170 million. The scenarios included far fewer projects than the district’s original $308 million bond which failed by just 144 votes in the May election, but those included under the new iterations still attempted to solve the districts most pressing needs for space and upgraded technology.
“Our goal for tonight is to see if we can reach a consensus around the information we will take to the community on Aug. 2,” Sherman ISD Superintendent David Hicks said, referencing the district’s planned public forum regarding the ins and outs of the bond package on that date. “Remember, we’re inserting into the process this time. Before we make a recommendation to the board of trustees, we’re going to go out into the community and gather feedback.”
Scenario No. 1 included a new $157.8 million high school that would be built on district-owned property near the intersection of OB Groner Road and FM 1417 on Sherman’s south side. The building, as proposed Tuesday night, would boast more than 370,000 square feet and a 2,300-student capacity. The first scenario also included a $12.6 million district-wide update of technology infrastructure and devices. The total project cost of Scenario No. 1 amounted to $170.5 million, a figure reflecting construction and purchasing costs in December 2018.
VLK Architect Partner Leesa Vardeman largely led the discussion of the new high school, which included many of the same features as the new high school proposed under the May bond — career technology spaces, large science labs and classrooms, multiple athletic facilities and a storm shelter for all students and staff. But Vardeman said the newest iteration of the new high school would see a 200-student increase in functional capacity after concerns were voiced that the proposed high school included in the May bond election would have reached its capacity too soon.
“There was a lot of discussion during the last bond effort about why we weren’t capturing the 2,300 students that are out in the distance and within our ability to forecast occupancy,” Vardeman said. “We talked a lot about that and, at this time, we’ve designed it for 2,300 students.”
Scenario No. 2 proposed the same technology upgrades as seen in the first option, but eliminated the new high school and instead sought to improve the existing Sherman High School by way of numerous additions and renovations for $98.3 million. The second scenario also included a new $59.8 million middle school for 900 students in sixth through eighth grades. The total project cost, in December 2018 dollars, amounted to $170.8 million.
Both scenarios would be bankrolled by a 2o cent tax increase per every $100 of taxable property value, and Assistant Superintendent Tyson Bennett said both packages included tech upgrades because surveys conducted by the district indicated likely support from the public.
“Whenever we surveyed this group, as well as the community, we’ve seen that technology rates very highly,” Bennett said. “And we believe that the community would support upgrades in the area of technology.”
Committee members asked the consultants and district administrators numerous questions about the projects, including how the costs were calculated and how the removal or addition of features would affect price. Sherman High School Principal Chris Mogan was also put on the spot by a fellow committee member who asked him whether he supported the construction of a new high school.
“Having worked here for a year and being in the school, I honestly, whole-heartedly believe that my opinion is that a new high school is the way to go,” Mogan said. “And another consideration I’ll throw out there, with staffing, it’s easier to retain good teachers for your sons and daughters and to be competitive with the high schools around us if we have one we can really be proud of.”
Following the discussion of both scenarios, the committee members were asked to assemble in groups and share how they felt about the two scenarios. Virtually all of the groups said they liked and supported Scenario No. 1 and virtually all said they did not like Scenario No. 2, but would support it if there were no other option.
The next steps
With the August deadline for a called bond election fast approaching, the Community Facilities Team will have to work quickly to assemble a polished proposal and present it to the Sherman ISD board of trustees. But members of the committee expressed serious concerns over the communication of the bond’s financial and project details to the public.
Committee member and United Way of Grayson County President and Chief Executive Officer David Cortinas called on the committee and the school district to use “plain English” when relaying the facts of the bond and the facets of each project.
“People have to understand that this is more than hammer and nails,” Cortinas said. “You can’t do things like you would with normal home building. This is a much bigger project. There’s a lot of regulations, there’s a lot of other things that come into play. We have to message that.”
The Citizens Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet again on Aug. 2 and Aug. 3 to finalize its proposed bond package. Summaries of the committee’s meetings and additional information are also available on the Sherman ISD website.