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CISD Facility Advisory Committee Presents Recommendation for a May Bond Referendum to Trustees

            Representatives of the Cleburne ISD Facility Advisory Committee presented a recommendation for a May bond referendum to Trustees at their January 19 meeting, which includes major renovations to Wheat Middle School, and also Smith Middle School, in its future use as an intermediate campus serving students in grades five and six.

            The committee’s recommendation also calls for upgrades to campus safety and security, instructional and district technology, a major renovation to the interior of the Don Smith Performing Arts Center and the construction of a Student Activity Center at the high school. With no increase to the current tax rate, their proposed bond recommendation totals $90,730,934.

            “We had an incredible committee,” FAC representative Vance Castles said. “We were blessed to have so many give up their time for this. This recommendation we are presenting came together for the sake of students. That’s what this is all about.”

            Trustees are now reviewing the Facility Advisory Committee’s recommendation in preparation for a school board workshop set for 6 p.m. February 8.

             The 24-member FAC, made up of parents, community representatives and CISD teachers and staff, began meetings in early November, tasked with studying the district’s existing facilities and analyzing the need for new facilities and other capital projects. The goal of the FAC was to develop a recommendation containing projects for a spring 2021 bond election to bring before Trustees in January. Reviewing, revising and extending the CISD Long-Range Facility Master Plan established by the 2016 Citizens’ Bond Committee was also on their “to do” list.

            The organization of the Facility Advisory Committee came on the heels of a unanimous recommendation presented to Trustees on September 21 by parents, community members and teachers making up the Academic Alignment Advisory Committee.

Those serving on the AAAC were asked to provide input and guidance relating to long-term District academic and grade level alignment options, focused on providing students with optimum opportunities for learning, social and emotional development and stable long-term school connections.

Following their review of information and data, the alignment advisory committee presented Trustees with a proposal for new grade level configurations, with Pre-Kindergarten through fourth to be served at the seven elementary campuses; using the Lowell Smith, Jr. campus as an intermediate school for grades 5-6, with all seventh and eighth graders to attend A.D. Wheat Middle School.

Cleburne ISD parent Stephanie Philips, who served as co-chairman of both committees, shared the podium with Castles in presenting the bond recommendation to Trustees. Philips provided an overview of the initial work of the AAAC and the information and processes used by the FAC in determining the list of projects to be considered by the school board for a May bond election.

“Out of what was reviewed by the Academic Alignment Advisory Committee and their recommendation, we feel those needs relating to new campus grade configurations will be addressed--and more--in bringing this recommendation to you from the Facility Advisory Committee,” Philips told Trustees.

                Taking up where the AAAC left off, the Facility Advisory Committee was asked to take a closer look at Smith, as an intermediate school, and Wheat as the district’s sole middle school, to determine any facility needs, which would be addressed before new grade configurations were implemented.

                Over their seven meetings throughout November, December and into January, FAC members were given information on current and projected demographics over the next ten years, school finance and the District’s bonding capacity and ability to conduct a “no tax rate increase” bond referendum. Tours of the Smith, Wheat and CHS facilities were also provided. Meeting topics included discussions of other prospective bond projects, from campus safety and security and instructional technology upgrades to a new athletic stadium. Potential projects listed on the long-range facility master plan were also reviewed.

Improvements to the stage and auditorium of the Don Smith Performing Arts Center, were also presented for analysis by the committee, along with upgrades to the CHS Indoor Practice facility in its use as a Student Activity Center.  A new athletic stadium was also up for consideration. Options for every project were presented, reflecting varied levels of depth and expanse—minor to major--and estimated costs.  

                Committee members assigned a priority to the projects, with a major renovation for Wheat, which opened to students in 1991, ranked a Priority 1. Renovations to Smith and upgrades to safety and security and instructional technology were also ranked as top priorities.

                Priority Two projects led with upgrades to districtwide network services, followed by renovations to the Don Smith PAC and the construction of a Student Activity Center on the east end of the CHS campus to replace the indoor facility.

                A new athletic stadium was ranked as a Priority Three.

                “Our conclusion, after much discussion, was to renovate Wheat Middle School,” Castles said. “The renovation would include a new main entry addition, a new stage and new locker rooms, along with a new competition turf field and a new practice field, in serving all seventh and eighth graders.”

                Renovations for Smith within the FAC recommendation would address the cafeteria and serving line, Special Education and fine arts learning spaces including a new stage. Second floor upgrades would provide additional restrooms.   

                “There was quite a bit of discussion about the Performing Arts Center,” Castles said. “We concluded, as a committee, that with the new exterior façade and entry and the remodeled lobby addressed by Bond 2016, we should continue with a renovation to the 43-year-old interior of the building.”

                “The majority of the committee chose a full renovation in creating a Student Activity Center at the high school,” Castles said. “This facility will be larger, the size of a regulation football field, rather than half that size which is what we have in the Indoor Practice facility.”

                “A new stadium was going to be a major construction piece,” he said. “Our committee concluded it was not a project to present to voters at this time. We believe a new stadium should be looked at in 2025, along with ongoing technology upgrades and other projects listed on the long-range plan which our committee has extended into 2030. We must stay current with our facilities and in the programs we provide to students.”

                “We have a premier high school, with a Career and Technical Education program that is beyond question,” Castles said. “I believe we will have people moving in to Cleburne to put their children in elementary school, in anticipation of all the programs and facilities they will experience at Cleburne High School.”

                 In thanking Philips, Castles and FAC members for their months of work, School Board President Elizabeth Childress described their recommendation as having something for every student.

                “Several of us sat through these meetings,” Childress said. “We saw lots of healthy debate and we are grateful for the recommendation presented tonight. There is something in this package that will touch every student. It’s very exciting.”

                “I know how hard it was to make all those meetings,” Trustee John Finnell said. “A lot of people new to our community were a part of this, which is phenomenal. I think everyone on this Board feels the need to move quickly, for the sake of kids. The tough decisions we will have to make will be easier because of this committee, and their interests in education and kids.”

                A Facility Advisory Committee webpage has been established on the District website and includes videos and presentations from each meeting session, and the preliminary work of the AAAC.