Amarillo ISD eyes $100M in upgrades, 5-cent tax hike

While state legislators have inflamed emotions across the state with their consideration of a North Carolina-style bill to restrict bathroom use for transgender people, the Amarillo ISD Board of Trustees is taking on a bathroom measure of its own.

 

Members are mulling more than $23 million in upgrades to bathrooms around the district as part of a proposed $100 million bond proposal they hope to put on the November ballot.

“You’ve got bathrooms that you go into that have multiple urinals lined up with no partitions,” board President Jim Austin said. “You have several bathrooms where the sink or the toilet might have come loose from the wall, and so it’s being supported by some makeshift device. And another big issue is you’ve got sewage and water connections that in some cases are 70 years old.”

Austin and trustees are pushing the bathroom overhaul as just part of a $100 million bond proposal that also includes a slew of projects such as classroom additions, auditorium improvements and bullet-resistant glass at elementary schools. Trustees have said the goal is to modernize its 55 schools — nearly a quarter of which were built seven or more decades ago.

The preliminary proposal includes $25.3 million for classroom additions, $36.3 million for facility upgrades and $39.4 million to “modernize” infrastructure.

The school board will vote Monday to officially put the proposition on the November ballot, Austin said.

The district projects asking for a debt-service property tax hike of 5 cents per $100 valuation. An owner of a $100,000 home with a $25,000 homestead exemption would pay $37.50 more per year, or $3.13 more per month.

A committee of about two dozen community members, parents and school employees formed at the end of July to tour the schools and double-check the $100 million wish list that trustees have been discussing since April.

“We’re taking it very seriously,” said Aaron Phillips, a member of the citizens committee and a district teacher who is also president of the Amarillo Education Association.

“I do feel confident that whatever is put out will be a good-faith effort to do what’s best for the student.”

The committee is set to turn in findings on Sept. 15. The proposition language approved during the vote Monday may affect how significantly the committee’s opinions can affect the board’s proposal.

Though not the same across-the-board growth that Canyon ISD is experiencing, land-locked Amarillo ISD is projected to see some enrollment growth at schools in southeast Amarillo due to a residential construction.

The district plans to establish an elementary school to serve the Tradewind Square development and has already secured the funds thanks to a successful $99 million bond election in 2013.

The preliminary November bond proposal includes $16.5 million to add classrooms to Fannin Middle School and Caprock High School, where Tradewind Square students will also feed into.

Texas bond elections since 2010 have passed at a 73 percent clip, said Douglas Whitt, a financial analyst at Dallas-based Samco Capital.

Whitt told trustees in June that interest rates on Texas school bonds were favorable — below 4 percent — and said the district had a relatively low amount of outstanding debt compared to its tax base.

“Your district has plenty of room with which to address your facility needs if you and your voters decide to do so,” he said.

While not on the preliminary bond proposal, the district is also considering spending millions on new tennis courts at Caprock and Palo Duro high schools.

Also left off was a “neighborhood school concept” in the North Heights area. A board of trustees subcommittee has been evaluating options for bringing a neighborhood school back to the historically black area after schools there shuttered during 1970s integration.

The general election this year is on Nov. 7, and early voting begins Oct. 23.

AISD bond history

(all passed)

1987: $57 million

1996: $42 million

2003: $108 million

2013: $99 million

2017 preliminary bond proposal

Classroom additions

Palo Duro High School: $1,650,000

Caprock High School: $5,500,000

Fannin Middle School: $11,000,000

Sleepy Hollow Elementary: $3,300,000

Subtotal + fees/inflation: $25,350,000

Facility upgrades

High school auditoriums: $6,853,000

Bathrooms: $16,637,500

Secondary locker room bathrooms: $6,344,885

Subtotal + fees/inflation: $35,260,000

Modernized infrastructure

Bullet-resistant glass/doors: $5,170,00

Sanitary sewers: $9,764,700

Drainage: $7,400,600

Windows: $4,620,00

Portables: $1,822,700

Student drop-off and pick-up: $4,565,000

Subtotal + fees/inflation: $39,390,000

GRAND TOTAL: $100 million

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