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Connally hoping for $39 million bond to build new elementary school

Connally hoping for $39 million bond to build new elementary school

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Connally school officials say a new elementary school is needed to deal with overcrowding and to keep up with educational needs, and they are asking voters to approve a $39 million bond to make it happen.

Early voting continues through Oct. 29, and Election Day is Nov. 2.

Superintendent Wesley Holt said only a new facility can give students the educational environment they deserve.

“Our kids deserve an opportunity for 21st century learning,” Holt said. “Right now the technology is lacking in this building. The lighting is lacking. They don’t have space to do breakout and group sessions where they can do collaborative learning. We don’t have a STEM lab in this building so that would give them an opportunity for all of that.”

The new elementary school also would absorb grade levels from other schools at capacity.

To pay for the bond, the district’s property tax rate of almost $1.22 per $100 of property value would increase by about 14 cents. The increase would follow several years of rate cuts, and put the rate about a penny less than the 2017 rate. If the bond passes, the bill for the owner of a $150,000 home in the district would increase about $17.50 per month, according to district information on the bond.

The new school would replace one built 60 years ago and facing a range of issues that would be costly to repair, including collapsing plumbing and communication and fire safety systems that do not work. It also does not meet current Texas Education Agency size requirements, according to district information.

The new school would have a designed capacity of 900 students and add two grade levels, third and sixth, to the 364 fourth and fifth graders in the current elementary school. That shift is intended to free up needed space at the primary school and junior high. Some junior high teachers are sharing classrooms because of limited space, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Jill Bottelberghe said. Recent enrollment growth in third through sixth grade has amounted to the need for a new classroom per year.

Bond-funded construction would include the school, a new playground, parking lots, driveways, furniture, technology, other equipment and the repaving of Connally Circle. The school would be ready for the 2023-24 school year.

A point of frustration at the current building is lunchtime in the small cafeteria, which requires six 30-minute lunch periods every day, Holt said. There is only one serving line, and no room for parents or other visitors to have lunch with any students, he said.

The electrical and telecom systems, and reasonable options for upgrading them, also are limiting for the school, Holt said. The new facility would have the cabling and other equipment to provide reliable Wi-Fi and make options for using technology seamless.

Another major issue is that the current school does not have a secure entrance with a physical barrier to prevent someone who is not checked in from entering the facility. The new school entrance would have a second set of doors to provide that standard security measure, Holt said.

While no incidents have been reported, Holt said the district does not want to wait to address what is obviously an issue.

“I don’t want to wait until it happens and then have a reaction. I would like to be proactive before we get there,” Holt said.

If the bond does not pass, the district’s only choice at the moment would be to stay in the current building.

“It would be the same building. Our kids would still be missing out on the same things,” Holt said.

The district got a quote from an engineer to fix maintenance and electrical issues at the current location. It would cost close to $18 million, he said.

The district is aware of rumblings of opposition to the bond, but he hopes concerned community members take the time to go on a tour of the facility before heading to the polls, Holt said.

Walk-throughs are available Wednesday nights, and the district is holding virtual meetings Monday nights. More information, including a few videos, is also available at connally.org/page/bond-2021.

“I would just encourage them to come and view the building and make a decision on their own,” Holt said. “They have a right to go vote but I would encourage them to come see it.”

Early voting begins Monday in the Nov. 2 general election at five locations. The vote centers are open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 18-22, with the same hours Oct. 25-27.

On Oct. 28-29, centers will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Locations, open to all voters countywide, are as follows:

McLennan County Elections Administration Office, 214 N. Fourth St., Suite 300

Waco Multipurpose Center, 1020 Elm Ave.

Hewitt City Hall and Library, 200 Patriot Court

Robinson Community Center, 106 W. Lyndale Ave.

First Assembly of God Church, 6701 Bosque Blvd.

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Reporter

Hailing from the Chicagoland area, Amaris E. Rodriguez is a 2019 graduate of Northeastern Illinois University and formerly worked the Journal & Topics news organization in Des Plains, Illinois.

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