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STALLED PROJECT: Teachers unhappy with campus conditions

20130823 MHSMission CISD board members have been discussing renovations to the old Mission High School campus since 2008. Three years after discussions began in earnest and five years after the 2008 bond election designating funds for the project, the board is still undecided on what to do.

Teachers attending the district’s August Facilities Committee meeting said they are growing tired of hearing of plans that have been repeatedly discussed but never approved. The problem is the costs keep increasing and the district can’t find enough money to fund all the wanted improvements. The budget presented at the time of the 2008 bond election was $18.3 million. Now, the district is looking at a construction cost of at least $28 million, and a total project cost anywhere from $36 million to $37 million including soft costs such as architectural, engineering, utilities and testing fees.

In February 2010, it looked as though the renovation project was moving forward when ERO Architects was hired to work on the project. Shortly after being hired, ERO began a $635,000 baseline study in June 2010. A group of MHS staff members was gathered to form a renovation committee that assisted the district and architects with a list of recommendations.

Administration and staff recommendations included: a focused main entry, visitor parking, an easily accessible administration area, centralized classrooms for security, longer corridors, minimized hidden corners and courtyards for student interaction.

The total budget of $18.3 million for the MHS project was increased by $10 million in April 2013. These additional funds became available from the 2008 bond monies when a planned elementary school was cancelled due to flat enrollment growth.

Although the MHS budget was increased to $28.3 million, the district says they still don’t have enough funds to complete all the changes needed. And much of the $10 million added to the project has already been allocated to other costs.

Currently, the budget only has a total project allotment of about $18.2 million according to Executive Director of Maintenance/Facilities Construction Rick Rivera. When the Renovation Committee from MHS asked where all of the funds were used, Rivera listed off over 25 large expenditures for the campus, such as a $5.3 million contingency for inflation, $1.5 for drainage and utilities, and another $1 million for architectural fees.

Renovation Committee member Mindy De La Rosa said drainage and asbestos are a high priority on the their list of changes.

“We do need a drainage system so that water doesn’t come in through the floors. It comes right up,” De La Rosa said. “The air quality in all of our rooms – teachers are sick all the time. Students with asthma have big issues.”

Rats and Opposums

De La Rosa said problems with rats have also compromised the classrooms. She said traps were set in her classroom and had captured two rats by the next day.

“They put traps in on Monday; by Tuesday we had two rats. They were caught, but the other 10 were sitting there clapping and cheering,” De La Rosa said

Mission Collegiate Principal Orlando Farias stated while MHS has rat issues, the portables where his classrooms are, on MHS property, have opossums. Facilities Committee members said students have seen rats in the MHS gym. While members of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps said, during an interview on Aug. 14, they have problems with termites as well as rodents in their portable buildings.

“Janitors have placed glue traps in our buildings right now, and there are mouse carcasses everywhere,” Haily Hernandez, MHS JROTC battalion executive officer, said.

Hernandez’ mother, Stacy, said the buildings are falling apart, and full of termites. She said flooring has been replaced multiple times due to the infestation.

“The other campuses are newer…The facilities (at MHS) definitely need an improvement,” Stacy Hernandez said. “You are not going to be able recruit and retain teachers at any level in these conditions.”

Rivera said the district does have a vendor for pest control; an added vendor was approved at the regular meeting on Aug. 14. For rodent problems, the district receives work orders from each campus and that’s when a company is sent out to the individual campus.

The board reassured the staff that the rodent problem would be addressed. After the discussion of rats, the board asked to hear from MHS Principal Joe Lopez and his thoughts concerning the project. Lopez refocused the discussion on the budget and his concerns over the lack of communication between administration and his campus.

Lopez said in his position as principal, he has had to face his staff and tell them their high school’s renovations are postponed for even more time. Costly expenditures and changes in the budget were never communicated to him.

Rivera explained many of the expenditures made with the MHS budget had been in the works since the 2006 bond issue. He added, in 2006, the district had a different board, different administration and an architect in the construction department. Communication may have faltered in the midst of change within the district.

The MHS principal said his staff has waited years for renovations and they are prepared to wait longer as long as they know critical steps forward are being taken.

Parents on the committee also stated their concern with the length of time it has taken to upgrade the campus. One parent said the same discussion has taken place in each meeting about the MHS renovation project. She said it was time the board made a decision.

Towards the end of the meeting, the board discussed a range of different options that could be pursued to address the MHS campus needs. Suggestions ranged from moving Mission Collegiate High School to an underutilized elementary campus, to building brand new high school.

ERO Architects CEO Eli R. Ochoa said if the board would like to consider building a completely new campus, they will be looking at a cost of $60 million to $90 million.

Board member Patty Bazaldua asked if there was a possibility of creating a new bond issue for added funds. Assistant Superintendant for Finance & Operations Lucio Mendoza said if a new bond issue route were taken, the funding would come completely from local taxpayers; no state funds would be available.

Mendoza said in prior years the state provided matching funds to assist the schools with construction costs. But those monies are no longer available.

Ochoa said the final schematic drawing of the campus would take 12-14 months to create. Construction could take an estimated 30 months to be complete.

“From this point, it could take three and one-half years before you can move in,” Ochoa said.

No final decisions were made – again.

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CoverageAreaThe Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.

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