If school finished today, it would remain closed until infrastructure work is completed

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

Alice ISD and the City of Alice are still at a crossroads when it comes to $910,000 worth of infrastructure improvements the city says the school district has to complete before students will be allowed into the New William Adams Middle School, on schedule to be completed later this year.

The issue was brought to a head this week, after architect Johnny White with the firm of LaMarr Womack and Associates said that even if those infrastructure improvements began today, they would more than likely not be completed in time for the opening of the new middle school. Baldo Cantu, who spoke on behalf of the city during this week's school board meeting, said that students would not be allowed into the school until those infrastructure requirements are met, leading to a situation where it's possible the new school will sit vacant, waiting for the roads around the structure to be completed.

The district has already approved $170,000 worth of change orders associated with the infrastructure requirements. Because of the source of the funding for the project, an Instructional Facilities Allotment (IFA), the district is not allowed to spend that funding on property the school district does not own, or on work other than facility construction.

AISD Superintendent Henry Herrera said he is still in conversations with City Manager Albert Uresti concerning the infrastructure requirements. He has been in discussions with the city since the beginning, but board members expressed their frustration over a lack of progress on this issue.

Board members Ciro Zamora and Lee Ramon said that it was time to have a face to face with the city council on this issue, to see if something could be worked out.

"We're taking too long on this. The more we wait, the more it will prolong the project," Ramon said. "We've been sitting on this for awhile already. We need to get with the city."

Herrera stressed that there were some items the district and the city may be able to compromise on, although he didn't go into specifics.

Board member Roger Sanez said the district should make contact with the city council and have them ask the city attorney what statutes they are applying to this infrastructure situation, so that the school board could take a look at them and judge for themselves whether they truly apply to this situation.

Cantu said that the infrastructure needs were apparent at the beginning of the project, and that the city council has always been up front with the situation as part of the original planning process. "They knew that the plans being approved were a part of all that," Cantu said.

"We don't necessarily believe these requirements apply in our case. I think we need to bring this to a head," Saenz said.

Board President R. David Guererro stressed that the situation wasn't us versus them. He said that both entities should work together on this. "This should be a team effort," Guerrero said.

Herrera said that he didn't want to get to a point where there is a school there, but not a certificate of occupancy, but according to White earlier in the meeting, the school district is possibly already in that situation.

In the end, Cantu stated that none of the infrastructure needs would be necessary if the district had not decided to build a new structure there. Herrera said that currently negotiations are in parallel and that he would continue to work with Uresti on the issue.