School shootings put safety front and center at MFISD; $55M bond goes before voters

EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON

Under the proposed $55 million bond going before Marble Falls Independent School District voters, part of the funds would be used to transform the Marble Falls High School courtyard area to an expanded cafeteria and collaborative classroom space. This would also help with safety and security at the high school campus. Early voting is Oct. 22-Nov. 2 with election day Nov. 6. This draft could change. Courtesy of MFISD

Under the proposed $55 million bond going before Marble Falls Independent School District voters, part of the funds would be used to transform the Marble Falls High School courtyard area to an expanded cafeteria and collaborative classroom space. This would also help with safety and security at the high school campus. Early voting is Oct. 22-Nov. 2 with election day Nov. 6. This draft could change. Courtesy of MFISD

Columbine brought campus safety to the forefront; Sandy Hook forced school officials to take those protocols to a level unlike any seen before.

“In 1988 (when Marble Falls High School was built), school design favored open courtyards and space like that,” said Marble Falls Independent School District Superintendent Chris Allen. “But Columbine, it changed how we thought of school design.”

On April 20, 1999, in Colorado, two Columbine High School students carried out a planned attack on their school, shooting and killing 12 students and one teacher before committing suicide. The attack shocked the country, and school officials began rethinking safety.

Then, on Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, armed with a rifle and a handgun and murdered 20 children and six staff members before killing himself.

Since then, schools have taken a hard look at their campuses regarding security and safety.

And security and safety are the driving factors in the $55 million bond proposal that goes before MFISD voters in the Nov. 6 general election. Early voting is Oct. 22-Nov. 2. If the bond passes, it will not raise the MFISD property tax rate, Allen pointed out.

“The primary focus of the bond is safety and security,” he said.

One item is ensuring each campus has lockdown systems and keyless-access control panels. The bond addresses issues at each of the campuses, but Marble Falls High School will see one of the largest changes regarding safety and security.

The bond funding will allow for a major renovation of the campus’s front area. Currently, students leave a building to go to the fine arts wing or the cafeteria. While the district has a fence around the high school that can keep people from entering, it doesn’t offer 100 percent protection in case of an active shooter standing outside the fence’s perimeter. Allen pointed out that during lunch or even between classes, there might be several hundred students moving about those exposed areas.

With bond funding, the plan is to extend the physical building to connect to the cafeteria and the fine arts rooms, enclose a courtyard, and add to the front of the building. This would offer more security though some students would still have to leave a physical structure to go to the band hall, athletics, and some Career and Technology classes.

It would also provide more classes and a collaborative learning space. One challenge the high school currently has is there are few places two or more classes can gather and work together on a project. Enclosing the courtyard area between the current cafeteria and the main building would create more cafeteria space so the school could reduce lunch periods from three to two as well as create a collaborative learning area.

The plan would include a new entry vestibule to offer better control of who comes and goes on campus as well. This would also open up some current office space for classrooms.

The plan also calls for connecting one of the fourth-grade halls at Highland Lakes Elementary School in Granite Shoals with the main building, another security issue.

Across the district, the bond would support safety and security measures, including:

• upgrading fire alarms and sprinkler systems;

• improving traffic circulation and parking;

• adding new buses with seatbelts

• and adding or expanding mental health and counseling spaces at all campuses.

The bond also includes funding for addressing aging facility needs.

“We have some air-conditioning units that we really need to replace,” Allen said.

Over 90 of the district’s current HVAC units are more than 25 years old.

The district didn’t pull the proposals and $55 million amount out of a hat. Work on it began in April 19 when a committee, made up mostly of MFISD residents, began gathering almost every Thursday for several hours through July 16. The committee surveyed the district facilities and campuses, often visiting schools when class was in session so members could see how students and staff moved about them.

Allen said while staff provided some information and helped answer questions between meetings, the committee really led the effort.

At one point, the committee had highlighted almost $250 million in projects. The committee began whittling things down, Allen said, by primarily focusing on safety and security issues and things that directly affect student learning. As they worked on the list of items, committee members ranked them on several categories, including safety and security as well as student learning. Some of the categories were weighted a bit more heavily, such as safety and security.

MFISD also sought more imput through a community-wide survey.

After going through the list of possibilities, the committee got it down to the current proposal. Even then, MFISD staff went over the list, pulling together how the members scored each one, and then presented it back to the committee to ensure this was what they wanted and why.

The committee reaffirmed their proposal.

The only thing that “surprised” Allen in the proposal was the committee’s emphasis on addressing mental health needs at each campus. It’s something he and the MFISD administration had already been working on both as a district and through partnerships with organizations such as Phoenix Center of Marble Falls.

Clearly, the committee felt it was important as well.

The bond now rests in MFISD voters’ hands.

Go to marblefallsisdbond.org for more information and a breakdown of the bond proposals.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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