|Trinity Standard - Local News
Copyright 2013 - Polk County Publishing Company
Board approves $1.5m for school expansion
Trinity Standard -
TRINITY – Using money already in the bank, the Trinity School Board has approved almost $1.5 million in improvements to the Lansberry Elementary School (LES) campus. The approval came Monday night during a special meeting of the board. Under Phase I of an overall improvement program, the district will build a new classroom wing at LES to house the fifth grade. Under the plan, the Trinity Intermediate School (TIS) campus will be shut down at the end of the current school year. Next year, the sixth grade will be relocated from TIS to the Trinity Middle School (TMS), which currently has enough vacant classrooms for the group. The fifth grade also will be moved out of TIS at the start of the 2013-14 school year and will be housed in temporary buildings until the new LES school wing is completed. A representative of Jim Singleton Architects, the company hired to design the LES improvements, said the new fifth grade classroom wing could be ready for occupancy as early as January 2014. In addition to the new wing, other work included in the project will be to bring LES into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which will mean remodeling the cafeteria/ kitchen, restrooms and hallways. The board unanimously approved moving forward immediately with the work at LES after receiving a report and comments from a facilities review committee. During a special meeting Monday night, many of the committee members present – many of them parents of children now attending TIS –urged the school board to shut down the intermediate school. Built in 1926, the building which now houses the fifth and sixth grades was labeled by several committee members as a "dangerous fire hazard." Committee Member Kim Soria told the board that many parents are afraid for their children's safety in the aging, two story building. "There are extension cords everywhere and open electrical panels. It's a fire hazard and there are zero fire escapes," she said. She noted that a number of parents had considered picketing the school to protest sending their children to the campus. "I asked them to give the committee and the school board a chance to act before they tried that, but they are very concerned," she told the board. Committee Chairman Kevin Searcy noted the group as a whole feels that closing TIS is the highest priority for the school at this time. "We want the students and staff to be in a safe place that is conducive to learning. That (TIS) building doesn't meet that need," he said. Money for the project In discussing ways to pay for the project, the board agreed to use money it now has in the school district's fund balance. At present, the district has $2.9 in the fund balance, which is used as a safeguard to ensure the district has enough money to operate at the start of each year until it begins to collect property taxes. In recent years, it also has been used by schools throughout Texas to make up for late or reduced payments from the state. Business Manager Kevin Parish said the $2.9 million is enough to operate the school district for four months and if the district used the fund balance to pay for the LES work, they would still have enough left to operate the district for two months. He noted the two-month cushion is the minimum recommended by the Texas Education Agency. While the Phase I work will proceed immediately, Superintendent Dave Plymale said they hope to obtain a Quality Zone Academy Bonds (QZAB) loan to cover the cost of ADA renovations. He noted the QZAB program would not cover new construction, but does provide money for school renovation work. The low interest federal loan program would be repaid over a period of up to 25 years which would mean that the entire $1.5 million would not have to be taken out of the fund balance this year. How much QZAB money will be received is not yet known. Additional facilities work recommended by the committee will be addressed in the future. It includes a new performing arts building at Trinity High School that would include a 500-seat auditorium, band hall, choir room and theater arts classroom. Also recommended were two new science labs, a tennis court complex and a new concession stand/restroom building that would serve the proposed tennis courts as well as the exiting baseball and softball fields. Property sale approved During the meeting, the board met with Chief Appraiser Greg Cook of the Trinity County Appraisal District (TCAD) and approved another "liquidation sale" of properties seized for the non-payment of taxes. A similar sale was conducted last year but Cook noted that almost none of the properties available from the Westwood Shores Subdivision were sold. He noted that they received bids on 24 properties in the subdivisions in which the bidders ended up backing out when they realized they would have to pay additional fees to the country club. Cook noted that in December, the Westwood Shores Property Owners Association purchased the country club and has eliminated that fee. "That's a $1,000 expense that the buyers will no longer have to face," Cook said. Because of this, the chief appraiser said the Westwood Shores lots will be more attractive to bidders and there is now a greater chance of selling the lots and getting them back on the tax roll. Under the TCAD plan, a liquidation sale will be held in which only Westwood Shores properties will be available. The sale would be advertised starting on May 9 with bids accepted on June 10. The bids would be opened on about July 12. Cook said that no minimum bid would be set for the sale. "As long as we have reliable taxpayers, we'll let them have the lots," he said.