Update for December 12, 2013
HISD presents case for bond
By Jeromy Kusch
Monday, Dec. 9, Hondo ISD Superintendent Dr. A’Lann Truelock, along with district teachers, employees and school board members reached out to Hondo residents to discuss needed repairs and renovations for district facilities.
Faculty and families filed into the Hondo High School band hall Monday evening to get a first hand look at the facilities Truelock says are in “dire need of help.” The band hall is just one area in the district that school board members believe needs significant repairs or replacement. Others include: science facilities, track and the gym.
According to Truelock, only 68% of recent bond elections around the state have passed, a mark she says is well below the average. Failures “tend to have some type of fine arts or sports building associated with it,” Truelock said. Realizing the challenges facing such a bond, board members decided it was time to get community input.
In her opening statements Dr. Truelock said, “We expect the students of Hondo to perform, and to perform well. Our band does phenomenal things. The FFA folks are a jewel in our crown... We ask and ask them to perform for us, to bring honor and dignity to our town... and (pointing to the 90-year old building in which the band rehearses) this is the condition in which they perform.”
Some parents were eager to offer input. One such couple has a child who is a freshman at Hondo High School, and a daughter who graduated that was involved with the band program. They believe the fine arts facilities should be a priority when considering any bond measures.
Jeff Berger, whose wife is a teacher and has two children in Hondo schools said, “I’m in support of anything we can do to improve our facilities.” He suggested having affected departments describe how the facilities’ deficiencies are impacting their students. The discussion was then turned over to Hondo ISD faculty and staff.
District Technology Director Mary Jo Peters addressed issues with the district’s infrastructure. Peters said the last updates to the district’s network were done in 2007. With schools using more technology in the classroom, Peters believes the system needs to be reworked to meet future demands.
Athletic Director Jeff Rochat addressed the overlapping issues with the Activities Center. Limited space has forced the girls’ athletic program to adapt other rooms to create the needed space, which high school principal James Angst says is not Title 9 compliant. Rochat continued by addressing the condition of the track, a facility he says could be “condemned.”
According to Dr. Truelock, a $40,000 estimate was given for current track repairs that would only extend its life another two years. Rochat also said the track is not sufficient when preparing for competition. “We will still take kids to compete,” Rochat said, “but they will not be as well prepared.”
Rochat went on to discuss the challenges in scheduling practices in the Activities Center while working around the needs of the band and theatre programs. Rochat says they are “tripping over each other” trying to work everyone into the program.
HHS Principal Jim Angst also added the Activities Center is not ADA compliant, as students with certain disabilities cannot access rooms on the second story. A problem Angst says that requires classes to be moved to different rooms, or forces the student to be separated.
The conversation continued with Hondo band director Leon Steward, who said that Hondo has the oldest band building in the state of Texas. The band hall was built in the 1920s as a gym and was later converted for the band program.
Steward said the building lacks proper practice and changing facilities for band members. The aging facility also has bats in the ceiling and has several leaks. In addition, the heater is “worn out” according to Stewart. He discussed the possibility of a fine arts facility that would provide a large practice room, smaller practice rooms, changing rooms, offices, a dark room for theatre, and classrooms for art.
Steward went on to highlight the great success the band has achieved, 40 first divisions in the past 43 years, and 20 out of 23 sweepstakes.
High school theatre teacher Kyle Andrews voiced his agreement. In a lighter moment, Andrews admitted to the room that he carved his initials in some boards on the Activities Center stage when he was a student in the 1980s. Showing how few improvements have been made to the building in the interim, Andrews said he can still find his initials etched in the Activities Center.
Andrews said the students are striving to “rise above their facilities,” saying the building has been more of a hindrance to the program. Reaffirming Rochat’s and Steward’s comments, Andrews went on to address the difficulties of trying to use one facility for three different programs. “I’m sure Coach Rochat wants me out of his space,” Andrews added.
Some parents had questions about the existing facilities. One parent, and McDowell Assistant Principal, Edgar Camacho, asked if the district had completed an audit of the facilities estimating the lifespan on existing buildings. According to Dr. Truelock, no such audit has been done, other than the one performed at the track.
Another parent asked about existing plans. Dr. Truelock said an architect was hired before her arrival in the district on Nov. 1. The architect had submitted plans and an estimate, but development was put on hold with the departure of the previous superintendent. The estimate included about $14 million for instructional facilities and a possible $11 million for fine arts and extracurricular upgrades, a total reaching $25 million.
Dr. Truelock reassured parents the district had no concrete plans. “We don’t have a trojan horse we are going to pull out once we find out what everyone wants,” repeating several times during the meeting the district had made no decisions.
As the meeting ended, another parent added to the voices, “We are here because we care. What do we have to do to make this happen?”
Dr. Truelock replied that she needs help getting the word out. Being new to the district, she is still meeting people, and needs to make more contact with citizens and civic groups.
“These kids deserve it and so much more,” Dr. Truelock concluded.
The presentation adjourned as high school band students began arriving to get ready for the district’s annual Christmas concert down the street in the Activities Center.
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