Westwood Independent School District on Monday will propose a $39-million bond issue to not only replace and rebuild aging buildings, but also redesign its four schools to meet the security and education needs of the 21st century.
At a community information meeting Monday night, Westwood ISD Superintendent Wade Stanford and others, including finance, construction, and design experts, will answer questions and outline the project they say will transform the district. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the cafeteria of Westwood Elementary, 2305 Salt Works Road.
School officials expect a big turnout for the district's first proposed bond issue and major construction project in 40 years. Parts of the district were built as early as the 1950s.
“This is an opportunity for people to have their questions answered by the people who know,” Stanford told the Herald-Press Friday. “When you're asking for something of this magnitude that will impact kids for generations, you need to be as transparent and honest with people as you can.”
The re-building project, overall, calls for far fewer entrance points into schools. The new configuration also would enable office staff to see outside the building, and reduce the time students spend walking outside to classes and the cafeteria.
Other features include a third gymnasium to accommodate basketball and volleyball practices, as well as tournaments. The plan would not raze the high school but rebuild it to accommodate a junior high, with its own interior courtyard, and high school.
The building will have two gyms and a common cafeteria, but separate dining areas, for junior and senior high students. An auditorium/performing arts center will be used for community events and junior and senior high band and other activities.
“I'm a little sad I won't be here,” said Westwood senior Madeline Colley, 17. “But it's a great opportunity for the the grades behind me.”
Following the community meeting, Westwood School Board members are scheduled to act on the plan Monday, Feb. 11. If the board approves it, the bond, not to exceed 30 years, will go before voters May 4.
The plan would cost the owner of a $100,000 home – slightly below the Westwood average – about $31 a month. The district paid off the 1977 bond issue, which built the high school and much of the primary campus, at least a decade ago.
Dozens of people, including students and an all-community Facility Advisory Committee, have worked on the plan for nearly a year. To get ideas, committee members and students, including senior Madeline Colley, visited five other school districts around the state.
The Westwood proposal, Colley said, calls for a more flexible and open learning environment, with glass walls and flexible seating – desks that student can move around the classroom. Certain desks that elevate would enable students, if they prefer, to work and study standing.
Colley liked the open vibe at the schools she visited. She also liked having a voice in planning the transformed Westwood district. “They definitely included students in the discussions and listened to our opinions,'' she said.
If voters and school board members approve the project, construction would start either late this year or early next year; it would take about three years to complete.
Construction would be staged to avoid disrupting classes for the district's 1,500 primary, elementary, junior high, and high school students.
Michael Page, chairman of the Facilities Advisory Committee, said safety improvements created by design changes will give students a comfortable setting to learn, without worrying about threats from outside.
Page is a long-time resident of the district, school parent, and 1991 graduate of Westwood High School. After graduation, he left to earn a criminal justice degree at Sam Houston State University, then came back to give back. He's now the transportation director for Walmart.
“We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves,'' Page told the Herald-Press. “This is a chance to leave a legacy. It's about more than passing a bond: It's about shaping the future of our youth and our community.”
The proposed bond issue would raise taxes for the district's so-called Interest and Sinking fund by 49.1 cents – just below the 50-cent maximum. With rapidly rising construction costs, delays in the bond issue would likely push costs over the state-imposed limit.
“Good stewardship” by former school board members, superintendents, and other school leaders, Stanford said, enabled the district to go 40 years without a bond issue.
“They need to be praised for that,” Stanford said. “These were great buildings that served us well in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
“Now, it's 2019. They no longer meet the standards for educational delivery, safety, or, security. We're trying to design and construct buildings that will stand the test of time.”
For additional information, call the Westwood administration office, 903.729.1776.