Unsecured, overcrowded school buildings and growing enrollment in the Jacksonville Independent School District remain the primary motivations behind the upcoming $22.8 million bond election, the superintendent explained Thursday.
During a lunchtime presentation to the Jacksonville Kiwanis Club, Dr. Joe Wardell discussed the Nov. 5 bond election at length while also fielding several related questions from audience members. Dr. Wardell's presentation — which included the use of a screen — precedes a similar presentation planned for Monday's Jacksonville ISD school board meeting.
If approved by voters, the $22,785,000 in question could finance the building of a new West Side Elementary School as well as eight new classrooms and a band hall at Nichols Intermediate School.
Dr. Wardell managed to squeeze a lot of presentation into a limited amount of time during the noon Thursday Kiwanis lunch at Lupe's Mexican Restaurant. As he spoke, he also passed out information cards encapsulating the chief points of the election — a summary of the bond issue and how much it will cost. The card also included dates and times for early voting, early convenience voting, and election day itself.
The superintendent noted that West Side Elementary right now has 46 outside entrances, which makes it difficult to keep secured. Additionally, it is overcrowded, built for 399 students but housing 473, Dr. Wardell said.
"With 46 doors, anyone can walk in and there really is no way we can secure them," he said. "Also, there are 11 different buildings on that property. Very unsecured, unsafe — if that's the correct word. A very serious concern."
Further problems that need to be addressed, Dr. Wardell said, include Nichols Intermedia School being built for 651 students but having 723 currently enrolled. In that same vein, as many as 133 band students are having difficulty crowding into the band hall at its current size.
In terms of financial impact on the taxpayer, a successful bond election would cost an additional $5.16 more for a family living in the average JISD home, Dr. Wardell said. Senior homesteads should be unaffected because their taxes are frozen.
Dr. Wardell noted that several resolutions of support for the upcoming bond election have been made by the Jacksonville College board of trustees, the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, and the the Jacksonville Education Foundation Board of Directors.
Early voting for the bond election, incidentally, begins Oct. 21 and runs through Nov. 1 — Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each of those days at the Jacksonville Public Library
Around the middle of his presentation. Dr. Wardell started fielding bond-related questions:
Q: What has been the overall response to the call for an election?
Wardell: I have really had very positive comments about the bond election. Probably the only negative I have head came to me in the form of "Why wait? Why not wait two or three or five years or whatever?"
Yeah, we could wait, but what's really going to be different in two or three or five years from now? Are interest rates going to be lower? Are construction consist going to be lower?
I don't have a crystal ball and I'm not allowed to give my opinion so all I have to offer you are these facts.
Q: What can you tell us about future growth in the district?
Wardell: Demographics say about 1 percent growth every year for the next few years. We are at 4,900 students. We have 170 students more today than we had the last day of school last year. We are continuing to grow a little bit.
Q: In regard to the new school all the former LMC property: Is this pasture field already cleared out? Or will the district have to do additional prep work besides soil testing?
Wardell: The great thing about that piece of property is utilities are already there. … We feel it will still have to have a little bit of work. Some clearing will have to take place whenever we put the school in there, but it's a very good location — five blocks, six blocks from the former West Side school over to that facility. Still in the same neighborhood. We're trying as much as possible to keep it in a neighborhood-type setting.
Q: On the building of the new school: Have you figured out — are you prepared for — growth?
Wardell: We are trying our best to add a little bit. We don't want to overbuild, There is fine line in there.
The new West Side elementary will be identical to the East Side as you want the same size characteristics in there. There will be a gym, an office area — all of that will be the same.
There will be only two wings on there. Two wings will serve 530 students. … If the area continues to grow we will come back in there someday and decide whether or not to add a third wing.
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