Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
The Jacksonville ISD school board Monday voted unanimously to call a $22,785,000 bond election on Nov. 5, which will help fund a new campus for the West Side Elementary program while adding more classrooms and a band hall at the Nichols Intermediate campus.
JISD Superintendent Dr. Joe Wardell, told the board that the tax rate increase incurred by a bond, should it pass, would be 8.5 cents per $100 valuation, just over $5 per month for an increase of $61.96 per year increase of taxes on the average home in Jacksonville.
In a letter addressed to his fellow board members, James Houser – who was not present at the meeting – expressed his support of the proposed election.
“'I regret that I will not be able to attend (this) meeting … but wanted to express my full support for a vote of the board 'to adopt an order of election calling for a school bond election … for the construction, renovation, acquisition and equipment of school buildings in the district,'” read board president Todd Travis.
Earlier this summer, members addressed the issue during a board workshop upon the suggestion of a citizen-based district facility committee who proposed the projects as part of a short-term plan.
According district history, the first West Side School building was a two-story brick edifice built in 1922 at a cost of $31,000. Located at Sunset Avenue and Hickory Street, the school housed a 1st through 8th grade program whose principal was Hubert Owen.
A new structure was erected in 1951, where the Pre-K through fourth grade program is currently operating.
“Our most pressing need is space,” said Principal Sandi Jones; “we are bursting at the seams.”
Opening day attendance was 466, but “we still have kids who haven't showed up for school yet, and we always get new kids who move in throughout the year.”
To meet the needs of the student body, teachers hold classes in several portable buildings, so a new campus will not only provide more classroom space, but allow for “new technology that is not available” at the 62-year-old building.
“The district has been great about keeping us updated, but because” of how the building is structured, the capability for technology isn't as complete as at other campuses, Jones pointed out.
Then there's the need for upgraded safety features: Because while the portable building on the campus help provide additional classroom space, they pose a safety challenge.
“The newer campuses have upgraded safety features, like a single entrance – we do our best to lock everything down, to keep our students safe,” Jones said.
Her campus “has been the most successful campus in JISD” over the past several years, with their program ranked as one of the top ones in the state, ranking with distinction in the areas of student performance and reading language arts last year.
“We've maintained all this through the change of (state-mandated tests), even though they've gotten more rigorous,” Jones said. “The good thing about a new building … is that it will provide more opportunities for students (that are) tied to technology and just having room to do more things. We want to foster an environment of learning and opportunity for our students.”
Nichols Principal Holly Searcy said that because “our population has gone up the last several years, we're running out of classroom space” and have been utilizing four portable buildings as teaching sites.
The school's band program has approximately doubled in size from 60-something students to a point where “they barely fit in (the band hall) right now,” she added. The new building would free up the old hall for use as additional classroom space, as well as storage, “which is desperately needed.”
The proposed additions will help meet projected growth at the campus, and construction will not interrupt instruction, she said, because classrooms will be added on as a new wing to the existing building, while the band hall will be constructed as an independent structure on the campus.
“We're just excited about the growth and the opportunity (it poses) for Jacksonville,” Searcy said.