Groundbreaking Expected in January 2018

By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

GRAPELAND – While it might not be apparent, the final preparations for construction of the new Grapeland Elementary School are well underway.

“I have the final drawings right here in front of me,” Grapeland ISD Superintendent Don Jackson said during an interview conducted on Thursday, Sept. 7.

“The architects have done a good job trying to hone this down to exactly what we want. They have done a good job of meeting with the board (GISD Board of Trustees) and most importantly the elementary teachers. They will be the true experts as to what their needs are,” Jackson said.

The architectural firm of Goodwin-Lasiter-Strong was chosen earlier this year to design the new elementary school and Jackson expressed his appreciation for the job they have done so far.

“They came down and met with us one-on-one to see exactly what we wanted in the new school. We feel like what we have – and what I have here in front of me – is very indicative of what we needed. We are very happy with these final drawings. Now, they may find something else they can upgrade and improve, but I am very impressed with Goodwin-Lasiter-Strong trying to get us the most bang for our buck,” the GISD superintendent said.

Jackson added he believed the finished product would be state-of-the-art and something Grapeland “… could be proud of for a long, long time. It is a complete project and a complete school in every facet. It has all the bases covered.”

The superintendent said the new school will be divided into primary, intermediate, special services and leadership sections.

“The primary section will be comprised of Pre-K through second grade. That is the largest section of the school. Pre-K, kindergarten, first and second grade students will all be in the same wing. They will have restrooms on the inside of their classrooms,” he said.

The intermediate section will consist of third, fourth and fifth grades. The rooms will be slightly smaller because the classrooms will not have attached bathroom facilities, Jackson explained but stressed the intermediate section would have restrooms in close proximity to the classrooms.

The special services section will house “… the computer lab, the sensory lab, a speech lab and a life skills classroom. That is all together. Our nurse will be located between the primary and special services section, so she is in a really good area.”

Storage was another area touted by Jackson. “We are excited the storage, also. Storage areas are built into every classroom and there is ample storage for teachers.”

There will be two classrooms per grade level, Jackson said, along with “… room for growth. In the primary section, there are two extra classrooms. In the intermediate wing, there is one extra classroom and there is also a science lab which can be used as a classroom.”

Student safety was a major concern in the design of the school, Jackson pointed out. He explained there would only be one entry way into the school, with visitor access controlled electronically from the leadership section of the facility.

“People who come to the elementary campus will not have immediate access to the school, just to the office. That is a safety plus for our kids. We will have a safety system in place where all doors are locked most of the day. At the end of school, certain doors will be unlocked. The safety of our kids will be so much better than what we have now,” Jackson said.

“It’s going to a really nice facility. I’m excited for this community. We’re catching up, facility-wise. I feel like we are as good academically as anyone in this area and I think our scores prove it, but I think facility-wise, people might say, ‘Let’s try another option,’ because we didn’t pass the eye test at the elementary school, where the foundation of a student’s education begins,” he said.

As to when the first shovel full of dirt will be turned, Jackson said he hopes to address the groundbreaking during the September GISD Board of Trustees meeting.

“We want to celebrate the beginning. If I had to guess, I would say sometime in January of 2018. We need to have a groundbreaking ceremony. It really is a celebration for the community to have gotten behind this bond and decided to do what was best for the students,” Jackson said.

To fund the new elementary school, the school district had to place a $7.75 million bond initiative on the May 2017 ballot. The measure passed and was initially expected to raise taxes from the current level of $1.146 per $100 of property valuation to $1.38.

“It really made me happy to learn the tax rate was going to be lower than expected. We voted this bond in thinking our taxes might be $1.38, however, it turns out it will be $1.32,” Jackson said.

“I have to give our board and (former GISD Superintendent) Mr. (Greg) Spivey credit for their due diligence. We were voted down the first time we put the bond up for election. So, we asked the question ‘Why was the bond voted against?’ The community told us exactly what they wanted and we were able to do it,” he said.

“Now,” he continued, “we took a hit because we are having to move the baseball field. The field being moved is not a convenience. It is a necessity because where it is currently is where the elementary school will be built. We had to take some of our fund balance and build the baseball field. We are currently in the process of re-locating that now.”

Jackson said the hope is have the baseball filed finished in time for the 2018 season.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.