Huntsville ISD committee eyes significant long-term facilities upgrades, could go to voters in 2021

Joseph Brown | The ItemB.J. McMichael presents a new facilities master plan to members of the Huntsville ISD Board of Trustees. 

Some of Huntsville’s campuses date back to the 1950s. Unlike fine wine, however, the buildings haven’t necessarily gotten better with age.

A report presented to the Huntsville ISD Board of Trustees on Thursday detailed the facility needs across the district’s eight campuses, which ranged from demolition of a condemned auditorium to additional classrooms at nearly every campus.

The master plan, which has yet to be approved by trustee members, was presented by the district’s Long Range Facilities Planning Committee and comes with an estimated price tag of $92 million.

“We’re all here for our kids … we’ve heard that some of our kids are embarrassed at our facilities and we don't want that for our district,” trustee president Rissie Owens said. “We’re on our way up at HISD and we just want to do what’s right and keep it positive.”

Included in the proposed master plan is a grade reconsolidation model, where each elementary school would house pre-kindergarten through 5th grade, while 6th through 8th grades would be located at an expanded Mance Park Middle School. Huntsville Intermediate School would also be converted into an elementary school and Scott Johnson Elementary School would be utilized as a community center.

“Through the Arise 2 Read program with myself and my wife we get to see the needs in our elementary school,” committee member BJ McMichael said. “As we look at this plan, we are excited about what kind of opportunity this opens up, especially for our pre-k through five students and families in our community.”

Construction under the master plan includes classroom additions at Stewart Elementary, Huntsville Elementary and Samuel Walker Houston Elementary. However, the major upgrades would come on the secondary level, as the plan calls for new classrooms, a new gym and a new cafeteria and Mance Park, along with a new auditorium and a new baseball and softball field complex at Huntsville High School.

“At Kate Barr Ross alone, we spent over $250,000 on a facility that didn’t belong to us, so we could have something we were proud of,” said committee member Shelby Shaw, who also coached the Hornet baseball team in the mid-2000s. “An on-campus baseball and softball would be something really good for the community and the kids.”

In 2013, Huntsville ISD voters turned down a $65.5 million school facility improvement plan that centered around a new middle school and an on-campus baseball and softball complex. However, district leaders believe that the district is in a much better place than it was seven years ago, with interest rates at an all-time low.

The district’s chief financial officer Paul Brown said that the proposed plan would equate to nearly a $75 annual tax increase per $100,000 home valuation.

“The cost on this is higher, but the tax impact is lower than it was in 2013, because of the timing, and that is an interesting opportunity for the district,” trustee Dr. Karin Olson-Williams said.

Trustees plan to discuss the long-range plan at length during a board workshop on Aug. 13. With a deadline to authorize a referendum for the November ballot looming, district officials are not expected to call upon voters until at least May 2021. 

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