The Houston board of education heard Tuesday it is moving closer to taking possession of a new 1,500-seat high school gymnasium on campus.

The board heard a report on the installation of the hardwood maple floor, received a presentation on banners for the $6.5 million gymnasium from Joe Ward, who handles photography and graphics for the school district; and looked at proposed graphics and wording for the floor. Sidewalk work is underway near the project.

The gym project might be completed by the end of August or early September if no snags are experienced.

FINANCIAL STUDY/CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS

Members also heard a presentation from Larry Hart, chairman and CEO, and Erin McManus, senior financial analyst, with the L.J. Hart and Company in Chesterfield related to the finances of the district. The engagement is to help the board and Dr. Allen Moss guide the district’s finances and plan for future capital needs.

The Piney River Technical Center photo
The Piney River Technical Center. Credit: HOUSTON HERALD FILE PHOTO

Hart and McManus highlighted a detailed plan presented to the board that gives a picture of the possibility of a lease-purchase agreement with the Industrial Development Authority of the City of Houston at the Piney River Technical Center for technical education.  Two classes for welding and health occupations will launch with welding and health occupations this fall. The report also looks at a possible refinancing on the gymnasium debt approved earlier by taxpayers that could save about $1.7 million amid a low-interest environment and also helps determine over a multi-year period what the district’s bond capacity would be without imposing any type of additional levy for capital needs. Phase II of the gym effort project was described to patrons as adding 500 addition seats, adding additional classroom space and connecting buildings there for security purposes. That is still years away.

The review comes at a time that the district has received or expects to capture additional federal dollars to help deal with the pandemic. A public hearing is set for Aug. 3 to gain input from patrons, staff and teachers on how to best use the funds. Already, some improvements have been made, such as doors, windows, purchasing two used buses and looking at larger vehicles that don’t require a bus for some required student travel. Other areas would be to continue to look at HVAC and improve air quality. Some funds can be used to assist students with learning loss/recovery. It’s a detailed and complicated project that will bring several million dollars into the district.

There is also positive news on making improvements at Tiger Stadium. Long on the drawing board, the district received positive news on a grant and will re-submit an application in November or December with hopes that a new eight-lane track might be possible instead of six.

New roofs on campus are wrapping up following an insurance settlement following a March 2020 hail storm.

TCMH SPEAKS AT SCHOOL BOARD

Dr. Tricia Benoist and Chris Strickland at TCMH gave a briefing to members of the board of education, pledging to assist the district in any way it can as the school year approaches. Both told of an uptick recently on cases and how more difficult the Delta variant is to treat and is very contagious.

Dr. Tricia Benoist

Of the eight deaths since the first of the year, five occurred over the prior weekend, he said. “We’re having a huge increase in cases in Texas County. It is this Delta strain,” Strickland said. 

He described a workforce that is working through a tough situation admirably, and has adequate resources such as personal protection gear unlike when the first wave started. 

An effort is being made by the hospital to bring Pfizer doses to the county for children 12 and over who want a vaccination.

Of the 1,980 cases found in the county since the pandemic began only eight had been vaccinated and none resulted in hospitalization.

While it is too early to make any definite plans to ensure safety of teachers, students and staff, the district is beginning to anticipate what education will look like. Ideally, it will be five days a week and without required masks. But much will have to be examined before the Aug. 23 opener, including what happens if a positive case is detected and quarantines result because no one had been vaccinated. If the number of quarantines jump out of control how would that affect maintaining a normal learning environment?

In other matters, members:

•Will hold its annual tax rate hearing at 5:25 p.m. Aug. 10, which is prior to its normal monthly meeting.

•Heard a patron, Andy Wells, speak after his earlier discussion on critical race theory. During the meeting, the board discussed its own written curriculum policies, the role of administrators in working with teachers to oversee instruction and its own role. It took no action.

•Heard from State Rep. Bennie Cook, R-Houston, who gave an overview of the recent Missouri General Assembly session and upcoming topics expected.

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