February 4, 2015 | There seems to be one consensus—that Pleasant Grove needs to replace the existing elementary school. The only issue now is where the new elementary school will be built.
The main purpose of the meeting Monday night was for the Pleasant Grove School Board to provide information about the five potential building sites and to get feedback from the community about these sites. Bryce Davis of Thacker Davis Architects out of Longview conducted the main presentation on the different potential build sites.
Each of the five potential sites was presented in detail. However, the debate came down to one location—the site on the corner in front of Texas A&M-Texarkana. The majority appeared to be in favor of this location. “We still feel unanimous that the Bringle Property is the place to build the school. The potential benefits that may come from being across from the university. It is a progressive and smart move. The school would be in a highly visible location to showcase our new school. The education collaboration with TAMU-T would be unreal. It is time for us to jump on board. We need a school now,” stated Pleasant Grove School Board President Kathleen Young.
However, some citizens expressed their concern with the TAMU-T adjacent location for the following reasons: (1) potential increased construction and maintenance cost of building under the University Plan and Development District (2) safety (including potential vandalism and driving distance), (3) small separation of 8 year olds with 18 years old college students, and (4) taking tax money away from the City of Texarkana by putting a school in a high sales and property tax area (where a school does not pay taxes).
Some believe the cost to build and operate the site will be increased because of the requirements of the UPDD.
“You won’t have parking like out here. It will be concrete with every 12th space will have a tree a certain amount of plants and sprinkler system to maintain it year long. The things about parking, landscaping, facades make it cost more than anywhere I know in Texarkana. It affects the building, signage, fencing, and facade,” stated Avon Williamson during the open forum after the presentation.
Architect Davis does not think the UPDD will increase cost much. “In broad terms, we have taken the UPDD into account in our cost projections. We put allowances in there for the UPDD for an enhanced irrigation and landscaping in our cost evaluation. There are subtle differences that would have to be incorporated. Overall, it is not an onerous requirement and not a tremendous issue as far as cost. The UPDD’s requirements for the color of brick is not necessarily an increase in cost,” stated Davis.
School Board President Young agrees with Davis in thinking that the concerns are essentially a non-issue:
Safety is not an issue, stated Young. “To me, the Bringle Lake site is no more out of the way than the other sites and more of a center point so buses, parents and children are not in vehicles for a longer period of time. Also, this site is safer because it is not located on Richmond Road, which is a 50 mph road as opposed to 35 mph on University Avenue,” stated Young.
“I don’t see where there would be an increase in vandalism. I have not heard any issues and there is adequate security on TAMU-T campus,” stated Young.
Another point brought up by the opposition involves the concerns over the elementary school being in such close proximity to the older university students.
“We would hope that the 18 to 20 years olds are responsible. I have no problem building next to a dorm.” stated Young.
The architects mention ensuring a secure way in and out of the elementary school, and further suggests that being scared to put an elementary school there implies negative views on TAMU-T students. “That is the best place right now and we need a school,” stated Young.
Another point brought up by the opposition involves the concerns over the tax loss to the City of Texarkana.
“The tax revenue loss for the City of Texarkana is mere speculation. We bought land for a school. There is already a school, TAMU-T, out there,” stated Young.
Other benefits from building in this location include not having to acquire new land, as the district already owns the land in this location, and being able to bring in additional revenue from selling the location of the current elementary. “I think the business and growth is out there are on Richmond Road. We will have 12.5 acres on a highly trafficked, highly visible traffic light area on Richmond Road to make up for the revenue people think we are taking away. The lot for the existing Elementary School is where entrepreneurs could build more restaurants and stores for the college kids. I don’t want to turn University Avenue into a new Richmond Road,” stated Young.
Furthermore, Young states that only a portion of the purported tax revenue would go to the City because the State of Texas considers Pleasant Grove to be under Chapter 41. This means that Pleasant Grove is “property rich”, stated Young, and “about 75% of the revenue earned goes back to the state.” “It is the Robin Hood Effect, as I like to call it. We are contributing money back to Texas for them to distribute the money to poorer school districts,” continues Young.
The bond would increase taxes by 1.25 cents.
The bond would be for $18.6 million for construction of the new school. “Based upon existing debt, current interest rates, and a 25-year financing period, taxes would only increase 1.25 cents. Currently, the tax rate is 35 cents,” stated Jeff Robert with First Southwest Company, a company that assists school districts throughout the state in getting funding through bond elections.
“The district has done two re-financing that saved the district $2.2 million. The interest rates and refinancing have contributed to a minimal impact to the tax rate for this project,” stated Robert.
“We are talking about putting this on the agenda at the next school board meeting to vote to call this election for the May 2015 ballot,” stated Young.
Pleasant Grove’s next school board meeting is February 12, 2015.
If the bond election passes, Young would want to start construction soon, expecting it to begin in the latter part of 2015. The goal is to have the elementary completed by August 2017.