A sweeping plan to consolidate and modernize Galveston Independent School District’s aging campuses, which was unveiled to public school trustees Wednesday night, gives islanders a lot to think about in coming months.
The recommendations came from an advisory committee of 76 parents, teachers, religious leaders, city officials, district administrators and interested residents who met for months to assess the district’s facilities and draft a plan for the future.
The committee delivered a document very high in wow factor.
Not the least of which was the projected cost of executing all of the committee’s recommendations — about $350 million spilt into an initial phase needing about $93 million and a second phase requiring about $256 million.
The committee noted that some of the cost might be offset through the sale of district land and facilities made surplus by consolidating operations into a fewer, newer buildings.
Some of those recommendations also are likely to be pretty hotly debated.
For example, the committee recommended demolishing Ball High School, 4115 Ave. O, and building a new one a little to the north on the mostly unused Scott Elementary School campus, 4116 Avenue N ½. The old building on the Scott campus would be demolished to make way for the new high school.
The recommendations also call for disposing of the Alamo, Rosenberg and Morgan elementary school campuses either by selling them as they are, or by demolishing the buildings and selling the land.
Along with a new Ball High School, the plan calls for building one new elementary school and investing in the district’s remaining campuses.
The committee didn’t recommend where that new school should be built, and that’s likely to also be a matter of some discussion in coming months.
It has been clear for a long time that the district needed to consolidate. It has been holding onto more land and buildings than its student population and projected growth can justify. That’s not a criticism. Any organization that might grow should be very careful about getting rid of real estate, and there was some question about how much the student population would grow back after Hurricane Ike.
The student population has been stable at about 7,000 for several years, however, and the committee concluded that kindergarten enrollment is flat, charter schools have room to grow and, overall, the district can expect growth of only about 500 students over the next nine years.
In that light, the consolidation part of the plan goes without saying. Already, there’s interest from MBS, the firm developing mixed-income public housing in partnership with Galveston Housing Authority, about buying the Alamo Elementary School property.
It’s equally clear that the district needs to modernize the facilities it decides to keep. The average age of Galveston’s public school buildings is more than 50 years, which means higher maintenance costs. A bigger issue, however, is buildings that old can’t accommodate the needs of a modern educational organization.
What’s also already clear is what might cause some push-back from the community.
The idea of knocking down Ball High School and Scott Elementary School and selling off Rosenberg and Morgan, for example. People form attachments to school buildings and often resist letting them go. We’ve seen it time after time across the county.
Superintendent Kelli Moulton offered assurance Wednesday that the district would continue honoring those important Galveston names even if the buildings come down.
More importantly, people can’t let sentimental attachment to the past keep the community from working toward its best future. If we don’t do right by our schools and the students they serve, where will we get the Scotts, Morgans and Rosenbergs of the future?
The biggest question is whether Galveston voters are ready to support a bond issue or issues of more than $300 million. That’s a big number in absolute terms, but less so in context of school bond issues in general.
Galveston schools might be dead last in the county and well below average on any list measuring capital investment over the years.
There’s time to debate the details of the committee’s recommendations, but the general bias should be for, rather than against, this plan to consolidate and modernize the district’s facilities.
• Michael A. Smith