Louise residents heard from school administrators this week and were largely supportive of possible changes to the district during a public meeting about future facility planning.
Administrators, teachers and staff joined Louise residents to discuss the state of the district on Wednesday night. Gallegher construction hosted the first of what may be more than four public meetings to decide what Louise taxpayers want to do to fix aging district buildings, some of which are more than 80 years old.
Robb Sidebottom of Gallegher Construction spoke to Louise residents for more than two hours about his inspection of the state of the district.
“We are here tonight to establish a committee led by Louise residents to determine what should be done based on my presentation and your input,” Sidebottom said. “I am not here to give you anything but facts, and if you need more information on something, I will make sure you get it. We just want everyone to be informed.”
Although there was a crowd of more than 60 people, Sidebottom emphasized the need to bring more residents to public meetings.
“The district cannot know how the community feels if people don’t show up,” Sidebottom said. “As a taxpayer myself, I would want to be a part of any decision that may affect not just the community, but myself.”
State of the District
Every building in the district has at least one classroom that is too small for the number of students they serve, including the elementary school.
“We have consistently dealt with size issues, especially in 5th grade,” a Louise fifth grade teacher said. “I have been teaching here for years and think that putting any money into the school will not just help the district but also the students we serve.”
The needs of the school weren’t due to a lack of maintenance, Sidebottom said, but rather because of wear and tear and advancement in learning initiatives.
“I am so very grateful for so many people to be here tonight because it shows that there is some interest in what we have going on here,” Louise Superintendent Garth Oliver said. “This is the best place to get information and figure out the needs of our school. The best thing you can do is listen and provide input.”
Another issue in the district is a lack of secure vestibules for student safety in the district. Most current school buildings across Texas, and some older ones, have a secure location visitors can enter to speak to school staff without entering into the same area as students. Most of the buildings in the district do not have this feature, except for the Elementary school.
Sidebottom went through the rest of the slides with input from the audience and discussed the lack of ADA compliance in many of the buildings, Drainage issues throughout the campus and a much needed upgrade in the library.
There was no discussion about cost, but many of the people in the audience took the opportunity to give input on what they think should be changed or upgraded.
What about the cost?
A portion of the night was spent discussing a possible bond if the residents and administrators decide there is a significant need for repairs.
“We are not saying a bond is necessary or that is the ultimate goal here,” Sidebottom said.”The reality is that this committee starts and stops with the residents of this community. We only move forward with anything if we can all come to a consensus, and that may be doing absolutely nothing at all.”
A school bond election allows taxpayers to vote on paying for the construction and renovation of school facilities. It is a request to give the elected Board of Trustees the authority to sell bonds when these projects are needed.
Silver lining in the Solar Farm
Most of the time, taxpayers will have to pay 100 percent of the bond, but the district has discovered a way they may be able get the Japanese gas utility company Tokyo Gas America to pay for up to 55 percent of the bond.
Tokyo gas America is the owner of the solar farm project that broke ground in November. The solar project is located off of CR 322 and CR 301.
The “Aktina Renewable Power Project” will employ 500 people, and the solar plant will stretch across 4,800 acres of land and include 1.4 million solar modules.
Louise ISD will receive $212,000 in tax dollars annually for years one through 10, a $50,000 yearly PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) payment, plus a one-time payment of $3.5 million.
The solar farm company is receiving a tax abatement based on its maintenance and operations budget. LISD says they are not eligible for an abatement based on the property value of the school and any future projects that require a bond.
“If, and only if the committee recommends a bond, will we pursue that avenue,” Oliver said. “If we did go that route, we have found a way for the solar farm to pay for a large percentage of the bond. This should ease at least half of the burden for taxpayers.”
The committee will meet again in the first week of December to discuss the ongoing state of the district.