Mineola Superintendent Kim Tunnell and High School Principal David Sauer welcomed a small group of parents and local businessmen to Mineola High School last Tuesday evening in an effort to help taxpayers understand the basis for the upcoming bond election on Saturday, May 6.
The current high school and elementary school buildings, which date from the 1960s, no longer meet the needs of a district which has grown steadily over the past half century. The Mineola School Board has called for a $41 million bond election to finance the first step of a five-phase plan, which over the next seven years will give the community a school district that meets the current standard for educational facilities in Texas. Additional tours will be open to the public at 6:30 p.m. on March 21, April 3 and April 20, so the voters can decide for themselves if they need to support the bond.
The tour started in the foyer of the high school gymnasium and progressed through locker rooms, the band hall, the combination cafeteria / auditorium (shared with the elementary school, making it necessary to start serving lunch at 10:15 a.m.), the Performing Arts Green Room (which is truly green, its tile a reminder that it is a converted shower), the auto shop outbuilding and the science labs.
At each stop, Sauer and members of his staff drew attention to the inadequacies of the current buildings. The drafty locker rooms are under the stands, whose concrete piers loom overhead, with a single shower for a dozen athletes to share. Instrument storage is not entirely in the band hall, as two trailers outside handle the overflow.
The auto shop, built in 1967, is unheated and uninsulated. The paint booth vents directly into the rest of the shop, and there is no separate room for safely storing the cylinders of compressed gases for welding.
Worst of all, the high school is actually a cluster of buildings that have grown up around a central parking lot. The large number of entrances would be difficult to secure in an emergency, and the athletes have to take a hike through the Nature Trail to reach the Field House.
Phase 1 of the District’s Long Range Facilities Plan calls for the location of a new, larger, and more flexibly-designed high school, career and technical education facility, and performing arts center in a more central location, near the current football practice field.
Phase 2 will convert the current high school to a single middle school building. Phase 3 will remodel and update the existing middle and primary schools to serve as a new elementary for pre-kindergarten through fifth grades. Although these buildings were built in 1986, they need updating.
Phase 4 will remove outbuildings and the current elementary school (as it is the building that is in worst shape) to make way for a new road extension to Patten Street, which will improve access for the buses that currently create congestion on Loop 564. Phase 5 will complete the expansion of the performing arts center and CTE facility.
The $41 million dollar bond is broken down as follows: $27 million is budgeted for the enclosed two-story high school building with media center, cafeteria, and band hall, as well as the competition gymnasium and locker rooms; $5 million is allocated for the expanded career and technical education (CTE) facility $8,300,00 is earmarked for the 800-seat capacity performing arts center.
The remaining $700,000 will be needed for road construction which will provide the entrance and parking lots for the new high school, performing arts center and CTE facility, as well as the expansion to connect to Patten Street. This will move traffic off Loop 564, as well as improve safety and security at the revamped campus.
The financial impact of the bond will increase property taxes. The average homestead in Mineola School District is priced at $109,549. Minus the $25,000 homestead exemption, the tax increase is projected to be about $35.19 a month, or an additional $422 a year. Of course, voters over the age of 65 who have applied for and received the age 65 freeze on their homesteads will be unaffected unless they make significant improvement or an addition to their home. If the district’s tax base grows, the individual tax impact will be less.
The public is encouraged to attend one of the additional tours at 6:30 p.m. on March 21, April 3, and April 20 to be better informed about this vital issue. The small group of about a half dozen people on last Tuesday evening allowed an opportunity to ask questions and discuss the issue with Superintendent Kim Tunnell in an informal setting. The last day to register to vote in the bond election will be April 6, with early voting taking place between April 24 and May 2.