By Lindsay Starr Platt, The Belton Journal
At the sixth BISD Long Term Planning Meeting Monday night, attendees once again voted between the Black and Tan Options.
At last month’s meeting committee members and attendees were broken into groups to discuss the pros and cons of each preliminary plan. After the group discussions, attendees had the chance to vote with dots. Attendees placed 22.5 dots on the Tan Option and 15 votes on the Black Option.
As committee members had the chance to discuss the plan with friends and family during the weeks since the last meeting, many minds had changed, and the future of BISD with two high schools now seems inevitable. Attendees were given “sticker dots,” and when they placed their votes on the option that was most viable, this time the Tan Option was the winner, beating out the Black Option nearly ten to one. Also presented at the meeting were two new preliminary plans, the Grey Option and the Maroon Option and what they would bring to the long term planning.
“I haven’t found a plan I fully want,” said Randy Pittinger, president, BISD Board of Trustees. “What a great process this has been, coming together as a community. We are going to take care of our kids and it’s going to be successful. We are going to find a way to take care of our students in the long term.”
At a previous BISD Long Term Planning Meeting the Black Option preliminary plan was revealed. The Black Option preliminary plan had in account all the issues that were brought up, discussed and voted on in the previous meeting. Unanimously, those that had their say in previous meetings wanted to discuss the expansion of the high school, keeping the two smallest elementary schools in the district and building an additional elementary school and middle school.
The proposed Black Option will take advantage of having all high school options available on one campus, all under one building. Academic course offerings could be increased if the Black Option was implemented by creating one “mega school” for Belton ISD. This would be an advantage for students in a wide array of studies from traditional to CTE.
“What is difficult for me to accept about the Black Plan is the traffic,” committee member Nelson Hutchinson said. “The money is not there to build new roads. Belton will not be a nice place to live if we cannot get around.”
“A lot of people have a lot of respect for Belton school district. I think that the traffic congestion is a valid point,” said Judge Ted Duffield. “What we decide on is not going to be built in two years. What is better for the kids is not always popular with the adults.”
BISD’s preliminary plan, the Tan Option, would add another comprehensive high school and an elementary school to the district. The high school would initially house 1,000 with enough space to expand to 2,500 students in the future. The plan would also include increasing student capacity at Lake Belton Middle School and adding a track, field and stadium, and then to repurpose the Belton High School 9th grade campus (Bhs9) back to a middle school that will use Belton High School’s track, field and stadium.
“We want our kids to have all the opportunities available, no matter where they are,” said Joe Sheppard.
Advantages to the proposed Tan Option would be having a smaller school and for more options for high school students to participate in UIL activities, including sports. And, traffic concerns for the campus at the proposed Black Option was a concern among many of the attendees, who commented that traffic is already a nightmare without expanding the facility. Of course, the estimated “bang for our buck” of either project was also an important subject.
Leisha Toliver went home last month and discussed the meeting with her family to hear their thoughts and concerns.
“My son said, ‘Only the adults do not want a second high school; the kids do not care.’” said Toliver, “None of the kids understand why this is a big issue. Is it important to the kids or the adults to be in a ‘powerhouse school’?”
The Grey Option would repurpose North Belton Middle School as a specialty high school and renovate the Wall Street Auditorium. It would also include the building of a new elementary and middle school.
Many attendees wondered why the district would convert an existing middle school into a high school but build a new middle school to replace the original. Several also questioned the need and interest in a specialty school, not to mention the cost of busing in students from all over the district.
The Maroon Option would convert the district’s downtown buildings into a career and technical education high school, repurpose an elementary into a middle school and build four new elementary schools with an emphasis on smaller elementary schools.
However, attendees again questioned the need for a specialty school and cited traffic and parking concerns associated with more students in the downtown area, as well as the long-term inadequacy of the plan. In addition, several had concerns about the cost of building and maintaining four small elementary schools when building two or even three larger elementary schools would adequately meet the need for future growth.
“When you look out the door, a thousand kid school looks the same as a two-thousand kid school,” Hutchinson said.
The committee will break for the summer and reconvene after the 2015-2016 school year gets underway in the fall.