The Sherman Independent School District’s board of trustees will host a special meeting Monday night to decide whether to move forward with the proposed $308 million overhaul of district facilities and call a May bond election centered around the plans.
On the table are a multitude of projects, which include a new high school, updated football stadium, a district-wide upgrade of technology infrastructure and two new elementary schools. The publicly staffed Citizens Advisory Committee, made up of dozens of Sherman community leaders and residents, developed and prioritized the projects over the course of four months in order to address the district’s decades-old facilities and growing student enrollment. If the board of trustees approves the proposal, a bond election will be established and scheduled for May. The projects would then be in the hands of Sherman voters.
Sherman ISD Superintendent David Hicks, who has worked with the Citizens Advisory Committee since it’s first meeting in September, expressed optimism ahead of the board’s decision.
“I’m fully confident that our trustees are going to take the action necessary to move us forward,” Hicks said.
Sherman ISD’s first year superintendent said it was the board of trustees themselves who actually called for the creation of the committee and tasked its members with identifying the district’s most pressing issues and proposing projects that would solve them.
“They directed us to take this action, to study our needs and get the committee together,” Hicks said. “Now, this will be their chance to take action.”
After a comprehensive tour of the district’s facilities and seven separate meetings, the committee decided the greatest need is for a new high school.
The existing Sherman High School was opened in 1970 and has a 1,450-student capacity. The campus underwent major renovations and was reconfigured from 1996 to 1997, but is now well over capacity with nearly 1900 students currently using its classrooms and hallways.
The committee has proposed a brand new $133 million high school be built at a still undetermined location. The new school would accommodate 2,100 students and feature modern computer and science labs, and numerous athletic fields and training facilities. A large storm shelter would also be incorporated into the new school, large enough to surround all students and staff and strong enough to protect them from the 250-mile-per-hour winds of a tornado. And if the new high school is built, the existing high school would be repurposed as a larger middle school for around 1,000 students.
“A new high school leads the way in terms of need,” Citizens Advisory Committee Chair Gail Utter told trustees at the board’s most recent meeting on Monday.
Not far behind the new high school is the need for an updated football stadium. The committee presented the board with two options which take the form of either a renovation of the long-standing Bearcat Stadium or an all-together new stadium.
A new stadium would be built adjacent to the proposed new high school and feature a large footprint and press box, increased seating, and shared parking with the high school. Total cost for the new stadium is estimated at $28 million.
If the district opts to renovate the existing football stadium, the facelift would include a new press box, increased seating on both the home and visitor sides, and improved locker rooms. Additional parking would also be established through the destruction of the standing Piner Middle School, which sits just south of the stadium. The rough cost for the renovation is $27 million — a price driven up by the logistical complications in building so close to U.S. Highway 75.
Also included in the bond package are two new elementary schools, both capable of housing 600 students and costing approximately $27 million each, and district-wide technology upgrades which will total some $14 million and take the form of increased internet infrastructure and digital devices for students and staff.
Hicks described the committee’s proposal positively and applauded the group’s effort in tackling the district’s needs.
“It’s very visionary,” Hicks said of the plan. “And the committee really took its responsibility very seriously. Every single member of the board appreciates the commitment and dedication of our leadership committee, because they know these people representing our community have really taken to heart the needs of the district and the vision for our future.”
If the trustees do have a hang up with the plan, it will most likely be concerns of the high price tag and getting the community to support it. The school district is currently authorized to borrow $160 million and the previously mentioned projects cost a combined $308 million. To bridge that gap, taxpayers will have to be willing to take on a $23 increase per every $100,000 of taxable property value.
Hicks said in the event the trustees do not approve the plan Monday night, the district and the committee will continue its work in finding the best ways to move forward.
“If they don’t take action, we’ll continue to examine our short term and long term needs, then look at our current operating budget and put the resources into the right places to serve our kids,” Hicks said.
But if public opinion is any indicator of how the board will vote, it seems likely the bond package will be approved. To gauge the community’s support, Sherman ISD commissioned a survey of 300 voters. After they were provided all the details on the proposed projects and informed of the tax increase, 63 percent of those surveyed said they would support the bond package if it came up for a vote in May.
The board of trustees will meet and make its decison Monday night at 5 p.m. in the district’s administration building, located at 2701 Loy Lake Road in Sherman.