After months of planning and meetings that often stretched well into the night, The Citizens Advisory Committee presented the Sherman Independent School District’s board of trustees with its proposal and support Tuesday night for a $308 million construction plan meant to help the district update its decades-old facilities and accommodate growing enrollment.
Ahead of the upcoming May election date, the committee asked the board to consider a multi-million-dollar bond package, which includes a new high school, updated football stadium, district-wide technology improvements and two new elementary schools.
Citizens Advisory Committee Chair Gail Utter said she and members of the group — Sherman residents, parents, educators, business owners and local elected officials — reached a super-majority on the proposal and that consensus gave her confidence that the board, as well as the community, will support the project.
“We feel very good,” Utter said. “We just think this community is ready for that leap, that next big step. This community is a terrific group of individuals who are so, so caring, and we’ve got to have the facilities and the resources to reflect that excellence.”
Utter explained that over the course of seven meetings and a tour of Sherman ISD’s facilities the committee established timeline for the projects, that will address the district’s most pressing needs. The first is for a new a high school.
“We feel like starting with the new high school is essential,” Utter said on behalf of the committee. “We have to have that centerpiece and build around it.”
The proposed new high school is projected to cost roughly $133 million and will boast a 2,100-student capacity. No location for the school has been identified yet, but amenities include modern classroom and laboratory space and even a storm shelter large enough to protect all students and staff in the event of a tornado. With roughly 1,800 students the existing Sherman High School is well over capacity. Once vacated the current high school would be converted into a large middle school, capable of housing 1,000 students.
Also included in the package are updates to the district’s athletic facilities, namely Bearcat Stadium. Two approaches are on the table. The first is a renovation of the current stadium for an estimated $27 million. The update would feature a new press box, increased seating and additional parking by way of the destruction of the standing Piner Middle School. Utter said that is an attractive option, but it will require some serious work and updates.
“There’s obviously a lot to be said for (the renovation) because of the history within that stadium,” Utter said. “It’s a very good facility that has served us well through the years, but there’s a lot about that facility that’s not appropriate. It’s not handicapped accessible, for instance. And we need better training facilities and locker room facilities for not only the Bearcats, but for visiting teams too. There’s a lot that needs to be done there.”
Option two is the construction of a brand new stadium, which would be built next to the proposed new high school. The project would cost roughly $28 million and include many of the same features but on a larger footprint with the freedom of a blank canvas.
The remaining components of the package include a district-wide improvement of technology by way of digital infrastructure upgrades and devices for student and staff, as well as two new elementary schools.
The $308 million package proposed by the committee well exceeds the $160 million Sherman ISD is currently authorized authorized to borrow, a fact that Utter did not shy away from as she spoke to the trustees.
“This recommendation is a little non-traditional in that we’re not giving you a recommendation based solely on our investment banking or our debt capacity,” Utter said. “We’re looking at things we can do now with the debt capacity that we have, but we’re also recommending authorization for future projects that you cannot afford right now.”
Utter said the committee understands the package is a big ask, both of the board and taxpayers but said it is necessary to meet both current and future needs.
“We feel like it’s time,” Utter said. “We feel like we’re behind the 8-ball a little bit and that we need to look out not just three to five years, but that we need to look out 10 years or 15 years ahead in what we plan.”
And after a survey commissioned by the school district regarding the construction plan, it appears Sherman residents would largely support. After learning the project details and of the $23 increase per $100,000 of taxable property value that would follow the passage of the $308 million bond package, 63 percent of the 300 residents surveyed said they would vote in favor of the bond if on the May ballot.
Sherman Independent School District Assistant Superintendent Tyson Bennett said the proposal will have to clear one hurdle before it can come up for a vote.
“It’s now with the board of trustees,” Bennett said. “They will talk about and determine what the best course of action is.”
The board is expected to review the proposal throughout the week and is expected to call a special meeting the following week, but a date has not yet been determined.
Board Member Britton Brooks expressed gratitude to the members of the committee for their efforts and the plans they forged.
“I am very thankful to these fine members of our community for getting together and working as a team,” Brooks said “They’ve put in so much hard work and I know that they will help take Sherman to the next level.”
Brooks said he would have to look at the proposal in greater depth before he could provide his opinion of it, but said he had special reason to look forward to the changes that lie ahead for Sherman ISD.
“I just found out last week that I’m going to have a baby girl,” Brooks said. “I can’t wait to see what Sherman can bring her in the future.”