La Joya ISD begins work on sports complex

20140901 LJISD Sports-complex-groundbreaking 3310Months after purchasing Martin Valley Ranch Golf Course, La Joya ISD is preparing to turn the property into a sports complex that could rival facilities around the state.

La Joya Independent School District has moved its plans for a $9.5 million natatorium to the land, which is now named Howling Trails Golf Course. Another $2.5 million will be used to construct soccer fields and tennis courts.

A $2 million planetarium also is planned for the golf course property.

School district leaders invited staff, members of the community and Winter Texans to a ground breaking for the project Monday.

“I heard a big misconception,” Superintendent Alda Benavides said as she looked out into the crowd filled with students wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “La Joya Swimming” and “Palmview Swimming.” “I heard there were only 11 swimmers in La Joya ISD, and from the looks of it, there’s a lot of swimmers here.”

Discussion of the natatorium began two years ago when the school district had conflicts with the city of La Joya over the contract for the pool.

Students believe the teams will be stronger once the natatorium is complete.

La Joya High School Junior Luis Enriquez joined the swim team after he saw his brother competing. It’s exhausting, and he used to make fun of the Speedos, but Enriquez said he likes that the sport gets him involved.

But others, particularly freshmen, walk out when they learn that the La Joya Municipal Pool, where the team now practices, has a broken heater. Plus, he said, the pool is small and dirty and the team has to share with students at Palmview and Juarez-Lincoln high schools.

Fellow teammate Santos Flores, also a junior, said he hoped to see a facility like Brownsville’s natatorium, which has three pools and bleachers.

“So people can actually come and watch,” Flores said.

Members of the La Joya High School swim team agreed that the new pool would attract more participants.

According to Board President Esperanza “Espie” Ochoa, the indoor natatorium will include a climate controlled water system and a 10-lane competition pool. It also will have a competition diving well and a spectator area with a capacity of 500, according to plans released last year.

At a meeting last week, the La Joya ISD Board of Trustees agreed to negotiate a contract with Texas Descon, one of two bidders on the project. The bid came in over budget at $16.3 million, but Gignac Architects indicated in a letter to the district that the firm is available to look for ways to cut costs on the project.

Construction is expected to take 12 to 14 months.

The complex also will include seven summer water attractions and four tennis courts.

Ochoa said the facility also gives students the opportunity to earn summer jobs as lifeguards.

“When we get criticized for doing the right thing for all of you, it’s worth it,” Ochoa said, referring to the more than 100 students and coaches involved in swimming. “We’re looking forward to state competition because a lot of you have a lot of talent.”

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