GUNTER — Passing by Gunter High School on State Highway 289, one might have noticed construction vehicles fixing up the south side parking lot where the marching band practices. The parking lot is one of several projects the Gunter Independent School District was able to launch after selling $2 million of bonds from 2005 to make improvements throughout the district.

GUNTER — Passing by Gunter High School on State Highway 289, one might have noticed construction vehicles fixing up the south side parking lot where the marching band practices. The parking lot is one of several projects the Gunter Independent School District was able to launch after selling $2 million of bonds from 2005 to make improvements throughout the district.


Gunter ISD was able to refinance its largest series of bonds because the rates were so low this year, superintendent Jill Siler said. The district saved $1.1 million on the refinance of the old bonds and knowing the amount of savings, she said, the District explored the option of selling $2 million of bonds for projects.


Upgrading the band parking lot from asphalt to concrete was one of the largest projects going on this summer, costing the district $340,000. The parking lot will be sprayed like a football field so marching band students can practice their routines before competitions. It is expected to be complete by Aug. 1.


"The parking lot that they have been using for the past couple of years has been a very rough surface with potholes and we try to chip and seal it every year," Siler said. "It’s very uneven and when you’re talking about students marching with their instruments looking up and not looking down, we wanted to make sure that we could provide a safe area for those students."


By upgrading the band practice space, the district was also able to improve the drainage and flow of water when it rains, assistant superintendent Kelly Teems said. The upgrades will prevent future flooding at GHS, he said.


Two other parking lots are set to be renovated in the next 12 months, Siler said. The high school student parking lot and the parking lot for Gunter Middle School will also be seeing upgrades. The district will be collecting bids for the other parking lot projects, expecting the cost to be between $600,000 and $800,000.


Another major initiative has been the improvement of technology. The district has fully upgraded its network and infrastructure by purchasing new equipment. In a matter of three weeks, GHS principal Chris Dodd said the network expanded from a server closet to a server room to meet the technological needs of the district. The room features racks for equipment, a high power A/C system and climate control.


"It’s allowing us to feed the proper amount of network in a safe environment and get us up to a more 21st-century campus," Dodd said. "We are a bring your own device campus and we wanted to be a place where if every student was on some type of a tablet, iPhone or laptop, the infrastructure would handle it."


The district also purchased new computers for teachers and staff members because the majority of computers were over 10-years-old, Siler said. A total of 335 desktop computers were replaced this summer, Dodd said.


"There’s not going to be a type of instruction that we can’t facilitate in the classroom," Dodd said. "There’s not going to be situations where the teachers are limited by the amount of technology or not have the ability to stream online content."


The newer computer models used by teachers and staff members were moved to computer classrooms for students to use. There was also enough money to upgrade student technology by purchasing Chromebook carts that will be mobile and available at all the campuses, Siler said. The cost of all the technological upgrades was $400,000.


The sale of bonds also allowed the district to improve security on the secondary campuses, Siler said. The district is in the process of installing lights around the exterior of the buildings and in the parking lots for students who are on campus after hours, Teems said. The district also bought additional cameras to enhance the security inside and outside the building.


Other smaller projects made possible from selling the bonds include minor repairs at the secondary campuses. Because the secondary campuses are older, Siler said, the district replaced old carpet, repainted classrooms and completed roof repairs.


It is important for the community to know that the bond funds are a separate pool of money than the general operating budget for the district, Siler said. Some districts use their general operating budget to do improvement projects such as technology upgrades and minor repairs, but Gunter ISD chose not to because of a financial struggle it had dealt with in the past five years, she said.


"The bonds are dependent on your property values and our property values had dropped over $34 million over the past five years," Siler said. "We weren’t able to sell any of them because our property values weren’t high enough to bring in the tax collection necessary to make that bond payment."


When the district received preliminary values for 2015, Siler said, the values had increased significantly and the district was able to sell the additional set of bonds without adjusting the tax rate. The final property values in the district were confirmed this week and increased about $20 million, she said.


"Our focus is students and we want everything we do to provide the best possible environment for our students," Siler said. "Even the smallest thing like a parking lot can be really important when it provides a safe surface for our students to march on. We hope the projects will provide increased safety, security and an overall better environment for the teaching and learning."