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News
GISD finds way to pay for demographic, building studies

Despite passing a deficit budget to cover the 2017 fiscal year, the Galveston school district ended the year with a surplus of about $1.2 million, Superintendent Kelli Moulton said.

District officials now hope some of that money, which they said became available after leaving some positions unfilled and being careful with purchases, can go toward a long-range plan for facilities that would attempt to determine what the student population would be and how the district should use that information as it considers its use of buildings.

The board of trustees Wednesday will consider advertising for someone to complete comprehensive district facilities and demographic studies, Moulton said.

The combined studies should cost less than $300,000, Moulton said.

“After advertising, we will evaluate the proposals and determine the company we will negotiate with for service,” Moulton said.

Galveston voters in May will decide on a $31 million bond referendum, which leaders envision as the first in a two-part plan to improve district facilities.

The studies are necessary because district officials are preparing for a second bond election that would focus on long-term needs.

Community groups and district officials looking into the second bond election are seeking answers to two questions — what will the district’s enrollment look like in 10 years? And what facilities are underutilized?

“What I expect the studies to show us is how many students are projected to be in GISD in 2023, 2028 and 2033, while at the same time showing us how many and which facilities are necessary to educate our students not only today, but in 5, 10 and 15 years,” GISD Board of Trustees President Matthew Hay said in a previous interview with The Daily News.

The May election will not raise the district’s tax rate, officials said.

District officials have said the staggered bond elections are necessary because they don’t have time to prepare for a comprehensive examination of long-term needs before the deadline to call a May vote.

“Our facilities are in need of repairs and updates, but the priority of these need to be considered carefully,” said Monica Wagner, a member of the community facilities advisory committee. “At the citizens advisory committee meetings, we talked about the importance of the district having demographic and facility surveys done to help the board understand where the future of Galveston and GISD are heading.”


Kemah prepares for $1.6 million city hall project

KEMAH

Kemah Mayor Carl Joiner last week signed a building contract of almost $1.6 million, clearing the way for the bayside town’s long-anticipated city hall renovation and expansion project to get underway.

Houston-based Durotech, the project’s contractor at risk, days before had signed off on a so-called guaranteed-maximum-price contract of $15.665 million. If costs exceed that sum, the company will be required to absorb them.

Kemah’s city council, before the mayor’s finalizing the contract, had already approved the project, for which ground will be broken no later than early April, Alan Montgomery, who put together Durotech’s final figures, said in an interview following the municipality’s Feb. 7 approval.

“We should have the completed plans to us within three to four weeks,” Montgomery said, regarding the bids being compiled by the project’s various subcontractors. “I expect we’ll be breaking ground in late March, early April at the latest.”

A ceremonial groundbreaking is slated for Wednesday outside the existing city hall.

The contract between the city and Durotech also calls for an additional $150,000 in city hall improvements, including a computer system upgrade, and a $50,000 renovation of Kemah’s Foster Park, bringing the total anticipated expenditure to about $1.72 million, slightly above Durotech’s maximum guaranteed price of $1.719 million.

Municipal functions will continue without interruption during the anticipated six-month process, Joiner said.

“The project will begin with the addition, so city services aren’t interrupted,” he said. “Once that’s completed, we’ll be able to move on with the renovation of the current city hall and city council chambers.”

Funding for the project will come from existing city reserves, he said: “No debt will be required.”

For now, Kemah’s municipal functions — the issuing of permits, collection of various payments, other bill processing and the like — are conducted on a single computer server, one shared by the police department. That will change with the project’s various enhancements.

“The police have more confidential information on the server than city hall, so they control it,” Joiner said. “City hall having its own server will solve those privacy concerns. This addition and renovation will bring our work environment into the 21st century.”

Kemah City Hall opened 22 years ago. Two years later, in 1998, Landry’s, the food and entertainment chain, opened the first phase of what is now its 60-acre Kemah Boardwalk development, straining the city’s ability to accommodate the resultant growth in tourism — and the requisite increase in policing and other municipal services.

The city hall expansion will add 3,834 square feet to the current, 6,541-square-foot city hall to house the subsequently enlarged municipal and police staffing requirements.

“Back when city hall opened, we didn’t even have a city administrator and not all that many visitors,” Joiner said last month. “That’s all changed.”

In the ensuing two-plus decades, city employees have had to double up in cramped offices, and the expanded police department has had to take whatever spaces could be carved out to accommodate it.

“We’re looking forward to being able to better communicate with one another,” Police Chief Chris Reed said. “It will make us a more cohesive department. We’re excited by this development.”


News
Giving council chambers new look raises old issues

LEAGUE CITY

At least one League City council member is balking at spending $750,000 to remodel the council chambers, while others called the space outdated and in need of renovation.

But money for the remodeling is available and sitting in a $1.6 million account set aside for the sole purpose of improving the council chambers, city staff told council members during a work session Feb. 13.

The money is in the form of public, educational and governmental funds derived from a 1 percent fee Comcast customers in the city pay as part of their cable bills. The upgrades would improve the quality of the broadcasting of council meetings on the city’s public access channel, city officials said.

Councilman Keith Gross said he was concerned the average resident wouldn’t get that message, however.

“This room is 100 percent functional,” Gross said. “The people of League City are looking toward our council more and more about cutting spending rather than seeing new ways to spend their money.”

The council chambers, the large room where the council and other boards convene public meetings, also acts as a studio. The remodel would include soundproofing as well as reliable microphones, better lighting and a better picture on the public access TV channel, city staff said.

A common complaint from residents who watch public meetings online or on the city’s public access channel is that they can’t hear everything being said, Mayor Pat Hallisey said.

Because the public space is prominent on the public access channel, it is a window to the city government, City Manager John Baumgartner said. He also called the space outdated.

The project would include technology and lighting upgrades. A rounded dais would replace the existing angular dais, and a ramp would be added to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The proposal also includes the renovation of the lobby and lobby restrooms.

In Oct. 2013, the city council agreed to pay $72,500 to Houston-based Pierce Goodwin Alexander & Linville design firm to come up with the concept and design for the remodeling of the council chambers. The city council asked the city staff to come back with a less expensive plan for the 2,800-square-foot space, which also serves as the municipal court.

In 2013, the city had about $550,000 in the account, about a third of the amount in the account now.

Bids for the project in 2015 were higher than expected, staff said. The low bid was about $662,000 and the high bid was about $886,000 at that time.

If the city moves forward with the remodeling, Pierce Goodwin Alexander & Linville would update the older plans and the city would adjust the firm’s fee to incorporate what it was already paid, staff said.

The architectural fees are the only part of the remodeling that the public, education and government fees would not cover, staff said.


News
County extends final Ike recovery housing contracts

GALVESTON

County officials expect by the end of the year to close out the final disaster housing contracts awarded after Hurricane Ike, which will be a little more than 10 years after the storm.

This week, the county extended three contracts with developers building housing partly financed by disaster recovery money, County Judge Mark Henry said. The county extended contracts with Tegrity Homes, Sullivan Land Services and DSW Homes, until the end of December, according to county documents.

In all, Galveston County received almost $220 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant disaster recovery program, according to the county. The city of Galveston operates its own community development block grant program for housing.

“It’s just an extension because they’re not closed out of the program,” Henry said. “It’s not additional units or additional funding.”

The remaining contracts are the last the county has for housing damaged by Hurricane Ike, Henry said. The Texas General Land Office awarded the money in two rounds: the first for about $99 million and the second for $119 million, according to the county.

During the past 10 years, the money was used to build about 1,000 single-family homes and two multifamily housing complexes, according to the county. About 65 homes that sustained hurricane damage were repaired and 30 blighted homes were demolished, according to the county. The program also built about 30 homes specifically for veterans, according to the county.

Most of the residents who moved into the single-family homes or had their homes repaired were selected through an application and eligibility process, in which the housing department considered damage sustained and income, among other things, according to the county.

The houses funded through the program were built throughout the county, including in Texas City, La Marque, on the Bolivar Peninsula, in League City, Hitchcock and unincorporated areas, officials said.

Some of the money went to partially finance public housing, including the construction of 26 new units on Blue Jay Drive in Texas City, Henry said.

The county entered into the contracts with Tegrity Homes, Sullivan Land Services and DSW Homes for the second round of disaster recovery money in January 2016. Those contracts will continue until December to provide time to close out the terms, although most of the building is completed, Henry said.