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Spring break wraps with talk of a record year

It was sunny, mostly.

There was no talk of snakes, or seaweed, or any out-of-the-blue hysteria about bacteria levels in the water.

Spring break on the upper Texas coast can be a crapshoot. The water is still cool and the weather can be uncooperative. It was only last year that heavy rains hit Houston, causing the first of a series of major floods in the city, and according to some locals, keeping the beach crowds away.

Spring break 2017 was decidedly different according to some local retailers.

“It’s the best spring break we’ve ever had,” said Clyde Wood, the owner of The Witchery, a “purveyor of esoteric goods” on Postoffice Street in the island’s downtown.

“When I came out of my office last Sunday, it took me a while to get to the register in here, because it was shoulder to shoulder,” he said. “The cash register numbers are better than they’ve ever been. We’re breaking records.”

The same refrain could be heard at Ohana Surf & Skate on Seawall Boulevard, where free parking spaces were few and far between all weekend.

“We’re definitely seeing more traffic,” said Monica Adams, an assistant manager at the store. “It’s hard to say why, because the weather was not the prettiest, but we still had good days.”

Winter, which officially ends at 6:29 a.m. today, was unusually warm in Galveston, with more than 30 record daily highs set between November and March.

That trend changed at the beginning of the week, with mostly overcast skies, but that didn’t seem to keep most people away, Adams said.

“We had a tons of people from the Northeast,” Adams said. “Tons of Dallas-area people. Iowa was a random one. We had some Italians in here the other day.”

On The Strand, Nicole Miller was blowing a bubble gun at passers-by, trying to get them to come in to Bunch’a Cool Stuff, a gift store she’s managed for about a year.

This year was better than last and the crowds haven’t been too crazy, she said. Many of the people that have come in have said Galveston has really improved since Hurricane Ike, now almost nine years ago, Miller said.

There is one question everybody seems to ask though.

“People are saying that Galveston has changed a lot and downtown is really nice,” she said. “The only thing that I’ve noticed is that a lot of people ask for the trolley.”

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Little League complex could be complete by spring 2018

Galveston city council will vote in the coming months on a $3.8 million grant to renovate the ballparks on 53rd Street and Avenue S.

If city council approves the grant, the renovations could be complete by spring 2018, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.

Brandon Cook, chief of staff for the city manager’s department, said the city is excited about the prospect of improving the area, also called Fort Crockett Park.

“It’s going to be a really good place for our children to play and people to congregate,” Cook said.

Funding would come from the Galveston Industrial Development Corp., which oversees spending of the city’s 4B sales tax funds. In early March, the corporation approved granting the city $3.8 million for the first phase of the ball field project.

Phase one would renovate and add to the east side of the park. When the project is complete, the space will include three baseball fields, restrooms, a concession area, pavilions, batting cages, a basketball court and a sand volleyball court, Cook said.

The city in 2015 asked for $1.68 million for the park project. The actual amount needed is higher because the city had only conducted preliminary estimates at the time the idea was proposed, Cook said.

“That was before any type of actual work went into it,” Cook said. “It was just a ballpark kind of number.”

If the grant is approved, the city would bid out a contract for the renovations, and construction would begin by August, Yarbrough said.

A second phase of construction would have to similarly be approved. Those renovations would be to the west side of the park and would include a new walking trail, parking lot, lighting and landscaping, Cook said.

The area is used by the Island Little League, one of two leagues on the island. The West Isle Little League plays at the Schreiber Park facility on 83rd Street.

Rosemary Trevino, Island Little League treasurer, said she’s ready for renovations because the fields are difficult to maintain.

“We have kind of been waiting for it and hope it gets done soon,” Trevino said.

Johnny Smecca, chairman of the sports tourism committee for the Galveston Economic Development Partnership, called the possible renovations “long overdue.”

“I’ve been very critical of the lack of investment in our community on our recreational parks,” Smecca said. “I’m thankful that the city is making the investment. I think it’s going to spark some excitement and some future renewal of the facilities.”

The city council has yet to put the grants on its agenda.

Taylor files bill to amend upcoming A-F rating system

Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, recently filed a bill that would see several changes to a new Texas Education Agency school accountability system opposed by many districts in Galveston County.

Taylor filed Senate Bill 2051 to revise House Bill 2804, which was passed by Texas lawmakers in 2015 as a means to simplify school accountability by giving schools and districts a grade on a scale of A to F.

But many education officials in Texas and in Galveston County, including Clear Creek ISD Superintendent Greg Smith, has said the measure lawmakers passed in 2015 was anything but simple.

“In essence, this rating system is like taking all the gauges on an airplane and telling the pilot there is only one gauge to pay attention to,” Smith has said.

The new A-F system is meant to replace the current system of giving schools ratings of either “met standard” or “improvement required.”

The grades themselves are based on a point system calculated through formulas that consider state test scores, graduation rates and other criteria.

A school and district’s ratings would be determined based on five different domains — student performance, student progress, closing the achievement gap, career readiness and community engagement.

The first official scores will not be released until fall 2018, although test ratings were released early this year.

Under Taylor’s proposed changes, a district’s ratings would be reduced to three domains — student achievement, school progress and community engagement.

Furthermore, SB 2051 would address another criticism school administrators have had about the new accountability system — its over reliance on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, tests.

The A-F rating system would rely heavily, about 55 percent, on results of the tests, Smith said in an earlier interview.

Taylor’s bill would allow for other factors for determining student achievement, such as how many are enrolled in college coursework.

Taylor’s office did not respond to a request for comment as of late Friday.

Kemah takes first step toward possible convention center

The Kemah City Council has opted to move forward with a study to determine the feasibility of selling a developer on building a hotel and convention center complex in the city.

The council on last week unanimously approved spending up to $30,000 to hire a consulting firm to determine — first off — whether the Kemah market can sustain such a facility, which also would serve local organizations.

“This is not only a hotel/conference center, but an event center as well,” Mayor Carl Joiner said.

Kemah is the second-most-popular tourism city in Galveston County, attracting some 4 million visitors a year, second only to Galveston Island, which last year drew roughly 6.5 million tourists.

A convention center in Kemah could augment the industry.

“We’re always looking for ways to continue the evolution of the tourism product we offer,” City Administrator Wendy Ellis said. “But we also see this as a need for the entire region and a way to fill some needs of area organizations that aren’t currently being met.”

Possible rivals

Ellis alluded to the possibility that other Bay Area communities are considering a similar development, raising the specter of potential competition.

“We know the market will sustain one of these,” she told the council. “Whoever moves on it first will win.”

The Kemah City Development Commission on March 8 recommended funding the study.

“There has been a need expressed for a larger meeting facility in our community,” Ellis said in an agenda summary she presented to the council. “Also, people have talked about the need for additional hotel rooms. Currently, we don’t know if our market could sustain an additional hotel and/or conference center.

“If a feasibility study is conducted and says the market could sustain a hotel/conference center, we would have valuable information to use for marketing and recruiting developers to consider our area for their project.”

Locations scouted

City officials have targeted several potential sites for the development.

“We’re looking at possibly three locations,” Joiner said, although declining to publicly identify them.

City officials have reached out to two firms that conduct market assessments.

“We’ve already talked to two companies,” Ellis said, without naming either, other than to say they are based in the greater Houston area. “Both companies that we have touched base with specialize in hospitality-industry feasibility studies and both have done a number of studies for communities and organizations in this region.”

She told the council that the cost of such a study could be as low as $15,000 and wouldn’t exceed the approved $30,000.

Such a project has been bandied about at City Hall for a number of months.

“The concept of something like this has been a topic of conversation since I began working here, just over a year ago,” Ellis said. “It has always held interest for us, but it was probably about six months ago when we started discussing the process for gathering proposals.”

Now, with the city council’s funding approval, the speculation has gained substance.

Jennifer Reynolds/The Daily News  

Elizabeth Turner, left, executive director and founder of SMART Family Literacy, teaches Janice Statum, her granddaughter, Jasmine, Jordan Roach, McKenzie Garrett and Amanda Crawford about growing tomatoes on March 13 during an event at Greater Barbour’s Chapel Baptist Church in Texas City. The church is working with the literacy organization to teach new neighbors in the Oaks at Blue Jay Drive about gardening and the importance of reading to children.