Cuero ISD kicks off construction projects after bond (w/video)

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

July 29, 2014 at 2:29 a.m.
Updated July 30, 2014 at 2:30 a.m.

An architectural poster at the Cuero school district   offices shows the conceptual image for the redesign of the Cuero High School, which will be funded by a $76 million bond passed by voters in November. Cuero is also relying on companies in the Eagle Ford Shale that will contribute to the tax base.

An architectural poster at the Cuero school district offices shows the conceptual image for the redesign of the Cuero High School, which will be funded by a $76 million bond passed by voters in November. Cuero is also relying on companies in the Eagle Ford Shale that will contribute to the tax base.

While some schools sit still during the dog days of summer, that's not so at Cuero Intermediate.

There, blue fiber-optic cables dangle from the ceiling, and a ventilation system is exposed.

Floor tiles and chalkboards are missing in the classrooms, and the whirring of welding equipment has become commonplace.

It doesn't look like it now, but the campus at 502 Parks Height is on track to welcome fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders on the first day of school Aug. 25, Superintendent Jim Haley said.

The $1.8 million job is the start of several construction projects across the medium-sized school district - prompted by the November passage of a $76 million bond.

While the changes are more visible now at the intermediate school and Gobbler Stadium, there are many more on the horizon.

By 2017, the district will have two new elementary campuses to replace the old as well new wings at both the junior high and high schools.

While the district has an annual growth rate of about 1 percent, the timing was right for the bond because of the Eagle Ford Shale boom, which is projected to last 20 years.

"Our values have increased about a billion dollars - with a B," Haley said while chuckling. "It went up from about $1.8 billion last year to $2.8 billion this year. That increase in property values will generate more money per penny, and we could end up paying our bond off early as long as those values keep going up."

Cuero ISD is classified as a Chapter 41 school district by the Texas Education Agency, which means it has to distribute its wealth with the state.

It has to give back a portion of its maintenance and operation budget, but it may keep all of its interest and sinking budget.

The bond is coming from the interest and sinking budget, again making the timing for the projects perfect, Haley said.

The school board is expected to meet Aug. 28 to set the tax rate by Sept. 1.

Haley estimated the maintenance and operation budget tax rate will decrease from $1.04 to the 90-cents range while the interest and sinking budget rate will increase from 6 cents to about the 30- to 35-cents range.

"It's a double whammy when your property value goes up and your tax rate goes up, so it will mean they pay more out of pocket, but it's also true that the oil companies are paying 90 percent of what was passed," Haley said.

In addition to a new ceiling, flooring and air conditioning systems, the intermediate school, which was built in 1972, is receiving new lighting, bathroom fixtures and 65-inch mounted computer monitors for every classroom.

A locked door will also separate the hallways leading to the classrooms from the foyer. Before, a visitor could forgo checking in at the front office.

Although no one walked in and threatened the students' safety, "one person going where they don't belong is too many," Haley said.

One popular future project is an 800-seat performing arts center. It's been 32 years in the making.

A nonprofit raised during that time about $800,000, selling Christmas lights downtown, and a longtime resident, the late Freddy Fischer, also donated $1 million to the district for the project.

If the nonprofit hadn't collaborated with the district, its plans would have likely been scaled back and far off, Haley said.

"This really was a win-win. They were some of our strongest supporters," he said.

The two elementary campuses, meanwhile, have historians and homeowners alike concerned.

This month, the district bought about 14 acres in the new Quarry subdivision. That's where 550 students in the first, second and third grades at Hunt Elementary, 805 N. Hunt St., will relocate.

The 350 pre-K through kindergarten students at French Elementary on U.S. Highway 87 will move to a new building on what is currently an old football field adjacent to Hunt Elementary.

The existing Hunt Elementary will be demolished for a playground; the future of the existing French Elementary is undetermined.

Johnnie V. Green, who often substitute teaches at the elementary schools, thought they should take priority "because my kids went to those elementary schools, and they are now 50-something years old."

A stoplight should also be added along U.S. Highway 87 to ease congestion during start and dismissal time, she said.

The Holman family, who lives on Second Street, wondered why they weren't included in the decision to move Hunt Elementary into their neighborhood.

They have 12 foster children and built their home in 1999. They've watched as other homes and buildings have sprung up around it.

"My husband says it's progress, and it will happen whether we want it to or not," Viola Holman, 63, said. "We've always had the very best of both worlds. We had the city in the front and the country in the back."

While the family doesn't oppose the elementary school's location, Viola Holman hopes the street leading up to it, Quarry Lane, will be one way because speeding is already a problem.

The Holmans, along with the Rev. V. Belfonte Friar, bounced around other ideas for the district Tuesday at their kitchen table, including turning the football field adjacent to Hunt Elementary to an aquatic center.

Although Johnal Holman, 69, appreciated the field's sentimental value, he thought it hasn't been maintained well.

"It's ugly. Who wants to sit in the sun on concrete?" he asked.

They also suggested there be a cover or shade over Gobbler Stadium.

Haley promised to be a good steward of the public's money.

"In our planning, we came up with a big laundry list of projects that usually you whittle down and prioritize, but in the end, we didn't delete anything off our list," he said. "In communities our size, the school is one of the central features. This will be indicative of our pride and our progressiveness."



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