Board also discusses renovation project

Sue Fleming, The Freer Press

The Freer School Board was honored in observance of School Board Recognition Month during the regular monthly meeting last Monday night.

Gift baskets, gift cards and a poster signed by high school students were given in thanks for their hard work during separate presentations by the principals on behalf of the students and teachers.

Also, as a special treat, three musical selections were performed by the high school mariachi band, conducted by band director Raul Saldivar.

As part of regular business, the board members unanimously approved the 2006-2007 annual financial audit following a review by Pat Moore, CPA.

As of the year ending Aug. 31, 2007, the school district's net assets total $9,027,372, total expenses are $2,337,450, and the general fund shows a total balance of $4,615,769, Moore said.

The 2007 tax rates have been increased in from $1.37 to $1.51 per $100 valuation, representing a 10 percent rate increase, although $0.4 per $100 valuation will be assessed for debt service on the new bond issue, while the maintenance and operations tax rate will decline from $1.37 to $1.04, he said.

Omar Salinas of Fulton Construction narrated a slide presentation that featured various stages of the ongoing high school and high school gym demolition project.

"The hauling off of the debris should be completed by the second week of February," he said.

Salinas noted that during the demolition process, a hole had been knocked into a wall located in a portion of the high school building with a machine accidentally.

"This was a minor incident and will be repaired at no expense to the school district," he assured the board.

Randy Hohlaus of Kell Munoz Architects followed with a preliminary budget and design review update.

"Everything is on schedule," he said, "and we're looking at ways to save money as we go along. For instance, inside the auditorium we've found the duct work is still suitable for use, which was a good surprise."

He reported that after a closer inspection was conducted, roof construction of the elementary building was determined not to be out of today's standard. Problems were found to be along the seams of the roof causing water leakage.

"We're going to overlay the entire roof with a new metal roof," he said. "Our plan is to, because the downspouts are inadequate, we're going to cover the gutters with new roof panels, then we'll have surface down gutters, down spouts. That will solve the problem," he explained.

During the budget report, Hohlaus said if all "wishes" that had been previously gathered from school staff were incorporated into the renovations/additions, the total cost estimate totaled about $26,789,000.

"Of course, this would be about $3 million more than what we have, so what we're proposing now is going back to the original master plan, to stick to budget," he said.

Design Plan Option 1 and Option 2 were then discussed.

Option 1 entails the renovation of the Annex building, he said.

"After looking underneath the annex, we found the ends were not built as the same quality of the basic structure," he said. "Because of expense of dealing with the two ends, it would be savings to remove the two ends with the rest still being renovated."

Board members Saul Hinojosa, Edna Cantu, and Calvin Evans voiced concerns and disappointment in the findings.

Hohlaus replied, saying that more problems within the 75-year-old structure could possibly be found as work goes along.

Interim superintendent Alberto Gonzales said he recommended the board look over the options carefully and then decide.

"I want everybody to be on the same page," he said. "We need to get the construction for the amount of money we can afford."

Option 2 would include the construction of a new annex building which would be located in front of the current annex.

"The advantage of this would mean going to a two-year project instead of a three-year project," Hohlaus said, "eliminating the need for a third phase."

He said with building a new annex, a potential savings of about $800,000 would result.

Renovation of the old annex would mean replacing all wiring and mechanical components in order to bring it up to code, he said.

After further discussion, Hohlaus said more budget workshops will be scheduled regarding the annex options and other proposed construction work before final decisions would be made by the board.

"We're working on all of the issues," he said. "We'll have more workshops to get your final input."

In other business, based upon the recommendation of Gonzales, the purchasing of laptops for teaching staff for a total cost of $108,278 was unanimously approved by the board.

Members also approved changing the March 17 board meeting to Tuesday, March 25, because of Spring Break.

After meeting in closed executive session, the hiring of Kelsey Garcia as a teacher upon the recommendation of the interim superintendent was approved.

Donations were also accepted and included $2,000 and $2,500 from the Duval County Christmas Appeal, 100 joints of pipe from Devon Corp. to the FFA and delivered by Arrow Drilling by use of a forklift from Straight Line Construction.

Concluding the meeting, Campus Improvement Plans were presented by high school principal Dr. Abe Mendietta, junior high principal Alfredo Acevedo and elementary campus representatives.

Junior high math teacher, Lea Lee, also spoke of the implementation of math programs which are proving to be successful.

Attending the meeting were Larry Robertson, Chris Lichtenberger, Mary Lou Garza, Cantu, Evans, Hinojosa and Gonzales.