The future of Denton High School rests in voters’ hands during the May 5 joint election.
Along with candidates for school trustees, city council members and the mayor, Denton ISD Proposition A asks voters to approve a $750-million bond package to accommodate new growth, renovate or replace aging facilities, enhance career and technical education, improve infrastructure and safety, and update extracurricular facilities.
With 6,000 new students expected to enroll in the district over the next 10 years and a potential 28,000 lots available for new housing, Denton ranks first in the DFW area for undeveloped vacant lots. Denton County is the ninth fastest growing county in the United States.
“We are currently the fourth-fastest growing school district in North Texas,” superintendent Jamie Wilson Ph.D. said. “Quality schools help communities grow.”
The recommendations for the bond came from a 56-member Citizens’ Advisory Committee, who met weekly for over five months to analyze the needs of each campus for growth, aging facilities, safety and security. The committee found the greatest need overall to be aging facilities.
“The goal of this grant was to manage growth and then look at aging facilities and what they need to improve,” Wilson said. “The committee evaluated everything and this is the list they created.”
Over 31 percent of schools in DISD are 30 years or older. The Denton High building on Fulton Street was built in 1957. With a 61-year-old building, students face issues such as power-outages, flooding, rats and spatial concerns. The Committee estimated it would cost close to 60 percent of the price of a new building to renovate the current campus.
“We were taking a history test one time when the power went out,” junior Anna Schmeding said. “Luckily we had windows and could continue, but in other places it was completely dark and they couldn’t see anything.”
At almost $200 million, the new campus is the largest item on the grant that was approved unanimously by the school board. It is to be put to a public vote on May 5. Other items include new security upgrades at all schools, money for replacement campuses for Newton Rayzor and Woodrow Wilson, renovations for Strickland and the DHS building to be the new Calhoun Middle School, capital improvements at 16 schools, natatorium repairs, and improvements in support facilities like Transportation, the Sisk Annex and the Technology Building.
All with no change to the current tax rate of $1.54 from property taxes.
“A big question was how to pay for it all without increasing the tax rate,” Wilson said. “We estimated that with all the growth in the last 200 home closings, we made almost $5 million with property taxes, and we could pay for the school as we continue to grow.”
While renovation could update the building, Denton High is limited in growth due to the current location. Most 5A schools have around 80-100 acres, compared to the current DHS campus, which sits on 36 total acres, with no expanding room because of surrounding neighborhoods.
“Braswell has 104 acres,” District Director of Communications Mario Zavala said. “They have plenty of spaces to park, everything is on campus, and they have newer technology built into the school, like charging ports.”
But the problem is bigger than parking spaces and charging stations. Many DHS students cross busy roads to reach athletics classes and their parked cars, producing safety issues. Earlier this year, senior Madison Hill broke her femur crossing the street.
“It [a new campus] would allow the school to have a safer environment,” Hill said.
Although the bond carries a hefty price tag, the biggest issue may be overcoming emotional ties to the building. From Bronco Stadium to the purple hand-prints of graduated seniors, memories fill as much of the building as students.
The Citizens’ Advisory Committee included graduates, parents and grandparents who all attended DHS. They were joined by city council members, doctors, even current and former faculty members – but they all had to get past their emotions.
“If the grant is passed, we will form another committee of community members to plan the historical aspects of the school and how they will be transferred to the new building,” Zavala said. “All the titles and things will remain the same; like Bronco Field will stay Bronco Field.”
If passed, the new campus will take four to five years to build, meaning current seventh and eighth graders will most likely be the last senior class to graduate from Fulton Street. The district plans to keep the same zoning, wanting the school to be placed in the heart of the city.
“In the past 10 years, 11 new schools have been built within the district,” Wilson said. “Of those 11, none of them have been built in the city of Denton.”
Early voting was open April 23-May 1, with Election Day May 5. Community members who are registered can vote. Parents, business owners, workers all have the ability to determine whether or not the grant is passed.
Additional information, FAQ and a breakdown of how the $750 million will be spent is online at http://dentonisdbond.org/index.html.