A new $2.2 million middle school gym and library was the topic of discussion for Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco School board members and more than 50 residents during a public hearing held Monday night.

The gym, closed to student use since last year, suffered severe roof damage during inclement weather last fall, which became just one more issue for a building plagued with structural concerns, according to school district officials.

BB-PB ISD superintendent Dr. Grace Everett present several pictures during her presentation, including water damage and deterioration on interior walls and ceiling tiles, along with a gym floor in poor condition, and a middle school library damaged by vermin, such as opossums that decided to make a home in the library over the summer and chew their way through several stacks of books.

Everett presented information from four different structural engineering firms and one architectural firm collected over the last 16 years.

All were of the opinion that the current gym, nearly 60 years old, has outlived its useful life and is unsafe during high wind conditions. Such conditions hit last school year and tore a portion of the roof structure off the building.

At this time, students utilize the bathrooms and showers at the front of the gym, in an adjoining metal structure so they do not go through the school day sweaty, but the actual gym floor section is boarded up and not allowed for student use.

Currently, Ben Bolt Middle School athletes are bused to the high school gym for physical education, while student athletes have to be dropped off for practice, sometimes before 6 a.m., in order to have time for practice.

Of the six choices available for financing a new gym and library, the only plan that would not put undue hardship on the district and the taxpayers is to pursue an Instructional Facilities Allotment from the state, which would help pay up to 70 percent of the construction costs if approved, Everett said.

The new gymnasium with a stage as designed in a preliminary proposal would be 10,500 square feet. The adjacent new library would be 2,640 square feet.

Everett noted the drawings are preliminary and the board had made no decision as to what the new building would look like.

With demolition costs, construction costs and architectural fees, the preliminary estimate of the project is $2,257,528.

The same IFA process has been used by neighboring school districts in Alice and Orange Grove, in order to construct new schools and instructional facility renovations.

The IFA grant is based on a district’s wealth per pupil ratio, with districts having low wealth per student ratios ranked higher than districts with high wealth to students ratios.

The school district would have to pass a bond issue for the new construction in order to qualify for the IFA funding. School officials said that although the IFA isn’t guaranteed, the district would qualify.

The average value of a home within the school district, based on figures supplied by the Jim Wells County Appraisal District, is $30,192 after exemptions. On a $2.2 million bond issue, the portion paid for by the district would be close to $677,000, Everett said. The other 70 percent could be covered by the state’s IFA.

Those figures would equal a property tax increase of $0.0809. That would equal $2.04 per month for the average taxpayer, or $24.44 a year in property tax to pay for the new gym and library. For those over 65 years of age, their homesteads would be exempt from the tax increase.

If the district attempted to pursue the $2.2 million bond issue on its own without state aid, the taxpayers would have to pay the entire debt service, which on a 25-year term would equal a nearly $0.27 tax increase. This is why a consensus of board members felt the IFA was the best for both the district and the taxpayers.

Parent Jilna Vela said she was excited that so many parents and residents came out for the hearing.

“Everyone’s here to support the kids and help the community,” Vela said. “They really need a new gym. My daughter used to trip on the floor boards and then the roof blew off. I don’t know how the kids did it, the mold and the smell in there. It was bad.”

Vela’s daughter, Jessica Ruiz, is a junior at BB-PBHS, and although she won’t be in school to utilize the new gym, she said she feels happy for those future students who will.

“I have two little brothers, in fifth and seventh grade, and I know they would really like a new gym,” she said.

Board members will continue to discuss the options for new construction during today’s regular school board meeting at Palito Blanco Elementary School beginning at 7 p.m. Should the district decide to hold a bond election, it will be scheduled for May 2009. The district will be notified by August 2009 if it will receive the IFA, and if so, can sell the bonds and begin to proceed with the new buildings, which board members said could be completed as early as 2011.