April 27, 2022 1129 PM
MARFA — The Marfa Independent School District Board of Trustees met Monday night for a regular meeting to hear updates regarding the historic adobe Hunter Gym, take a tour of the campus grounds, and discuss the district’s job opportunities, among other various topics.
Superintendent Oscar Aguero, as well as board members President Teresa Nuñez, Secretary Yolanda Jurado, Eernie Villarreal, Lori Flores and Christa Marquez were all present.
First up was a presentation by Mike Green, president of the Friends of Hunter Gym. Green reported to the board that the nonprofit had finally officially received its 501c3 status from the federal government and was eager to get started on planning and fundraising for the building’s restoration, moving forward with a talented group of individuals involved on their board. The group was established to spearhead the historic restoration of Hunter Gym, a notable adobe structure due to its size and provenance.
Green said immediate next steps are to establish a lease with the school district, which owns the building, possibly using its lease with the Blackwell School as a template. Friends of Hunter Gym will pay rent to the school, though Green said he was hoping for a fair rate as they have a hefty amount of fundraising to do to get the gym restored — Green estimated costs to repair the structure could total around $1.5 to $2 million dollars.
Most of the historic adobe gym’s structural issues are moisture-related, said Green, and the group plans to investigate, peeling back layers of the wood floor, to figure out the extent of the damage.
“Some of [the wood floor] is already starting to buckle up because of the moisture. It’s actually rusting the staples that attach the boards to ground. So that gives you an idea how much moisture is trapped in there,” said Green.
The southeast corner of the gym once had mold, which will be another point of investigation for the group.
“It’s going to be a journey of discovery. We’re going to be finding out a lot of details as we go forward,” said Green.
Their assessment of the gym will take time, said Green, but will involve airing out the building, trying to open up the windows to alleviate some of the moisture, which could even be coming from the building’s slab, said Green.
Another one of the Friends of Hunter Gym’s goals is to acquire insurance in order to host community members inside of the structure. Green said as the construction of the school gymnasium was funded by the New Deal program in 1940, it has a lot of rich history that is worth preserving and sharing. Plus, it presents some unique opportunities for public involvement.
“We feel like there’s an education component to this effort that I think brings value to the community. We have an opportunity to teach repair of adobe buildings,” said Green.
Their overall vision is to create a community space that can host a variety of events, said Green, and the group hopes to soon host an open house for the community. The timeline for the restoration largely depends on funding, said Green, but their immediate goals to sign a lease, clean out storage items, get some fresh air circulating in the building again, and develop a plan for a community open house could be achieved in the next couple of months.
“We want to help bring it back to life again,” said Green.
Secretary for the group, Bob Schwab, said all major decisions will be funneled through the school board, and the group will focus on developing detailed restoration as well as maintenance plans for the gym.
“With a historic structure, we want to do it correctly,” said Schwab. “We committed to doing this by way of the Secretary of Interior’s standards for historic preservation, so we do it in a way that’s recognized by the best in the business as to how you restore and preserve a historic building.”
Aguero followed Green with an update on the school’s ongoing auditorium renovation. He said all seats have been removed, and the district will next move on to finalizing requests for quotes (RFQs) for the next phases of painting and flooring. He said they had fundraised a little over $1,000 from the Class of ‘88 but were still accepting donations.
Unfortunately, he said, it will not be feasible to extend the stage in order to make it the University Interscholastic League (UIL) standard size for one act play (one of the primary goals of the renovation). But, it was unlikely the district would host UIL meets anyways, said Aguero, with other larger school districts nearby, like Van Horn, boasting state-of-the-art auditoriums.
In mixed facilities news, Aguero said the campus will have new, cloud-based security cameras installed in time for the next school year, and are working on hiring a landscaper for the summer, and possibly beyond, to keep school grounds manicured and minimize the amount of stickers on the playground, among other duties.
In discussing the district’s numerous buildings, the question came up as to the ongoing maintenance of the district’s current teacher housing, which includes many aging homes, and the scarcity of teacher housing in general. Marquez had mentioned to Aguero at an earlier date the idea of purchasing land and building a few new homes for teachers. High School Principal Allison Scott said Marfa is competing with other area school districts like Balmorhea, which provide affordable teacher housing, like $100 a month rent with utilities included.
“It’s so hard to find housing. We’re going to have to do something because it’s bad,” said Marquez.
The board agreed to continue the discussion of teacher housing in their next board meeting, scheduled for May 16.
Up next was an introduction by Mike Rhodes, education consultant with Claycomb Associates Architects, who the district hired to assist in the multi-faceted process of getting a bond on the ballot for infrastructure improvements. The district has yet to specify an amount for the bond, which would have to be approved by voters as school bonds are repaid with interest using taxpayer dollars.
The school district has heavily discussed the aging infrastructure of their facilities in board meetings this year. Due to the sheer number of buildings the district oversees and the amount of work that needs to be done — new HVAC units, roof repairs and more — the district is considering a bond to help with the costs of updating their campus.
Superintendent Aguero previously told The Big Bend Sentinel the district was looking to get a bond on the ballot for either the November 2022 election or May 2023 election — but at Monday’s meeting, the board was motivated to start the process sooner rather than later, and Aguero said the deadline to get the bond on the ballot for this fall would be August 18.
Before the board took a tour of the campus facilities, Rhodes gave further insights into involving the community in the bond process as Aguero passed out notecards for board members to jot down comments while assessing the buildings. The board was to pay specific attention to the functionality, safety and capabilities of the current structures, said Rhodes.
“The next process is going to be: how do we create awareness within the community, parents, business folks, staff and voters? Our goal is to create awareness and identify critical needs,” said Rhodes.
If they choose to move forward with the bond process, the board will need to form a community committee, which will be composed of staff, parents and other community members. One of the committee’s main roles is to help spread awareness and support for the bond, and they would likely meet a handful of times over the summer. Rhodes encouraged the board to start brainstorming on the people they would like to serve on the committee, suggesting influential people that represent a cross-section of the community.
Nearby in Alpine, construction is ongoing for a brand-new high school at Alpine ISD, and in Balmorhea, construction is also underway for a new kindergarten through 12th grade campus, which is being funded by a bond passed in 2019.
For many of the board members, who are alumni of Marfa ISD, the campus tour was like a walk down memory lane, entering classrooms where they once sat and learned. One board member recalled spending time in the principal’s office. Scott, whose mother used to work for Marfa ISD, pointed out the old boiler room.
Aguero led the group through various buildings, starting with the junior high area, then onto the high school’s entrance, the auditorium, cafeteria, and elementary school, stopping in various classrooms to highlight issues — windows that don’t open, water damage, problematic smells, outdated swamp coolers.
A recurring, predominant theme throughout the tour was the inability of the current facilities to meet today’s standards of a suitable educational environment. With buildings constructed anywhere from the ‘20s to the ‘60s and staggered renovations, administrators said it was challenging bringing their learning spaces into 2022. Towards the end of the walk, the group lingered in an elementary classroom, discussing how the facilities reflected the level of education.
“There’s nothing about the schools that say ‘this is a new age of learning,’” said Counselor Luanne Porter.
Using an example of the elementary classroom in which they were standing, administrators said elementary education is based on areas of the classroom acting as individual, educational centers, but with the size of the current rooms, there isn’t adequate room for multiple interactive centers.
Aguero said bussing the community committee to a new, up-to-date school might be a good idea to give them a comparison. It will ultimately be up to the committee to determine the needs, said Aguero, emphasizing they don’t want the initiative to seem like “the board’s bond.” For example, the board might want a complete overhaul of the campus, but the community committee might perceive the elementary school as the priority.
Back in the board meeting room, discussions consisted of current enrollment, the school year calendar, upcoming events and personnel changes.
Aguero walked board members through data on a recent STAAR benchmark for third through sixth grades. Scores were compared to that of last year’s to show growth of students over time, and Aguero said the preliminary data would be used to help steer instruction for the coming weeks before the actual test takes place.
Aguero next discussed the possibility of starting school earlier next year for students who do not receive passing grades on the STAAR test. House Bill 4545 requires school districts to provide 30 hours of additional instructional time per each subject a student doesn’t pass on the STAAR test. He suggested those students could front load the hours, coming two weeks early for four three-hour days to work with core subject teachers. Board members were amenable to the idea.
Enrollment is currently sitting at 269 students, said Aguero, with overall attendance slightly down to 90.51 percent. The school board voted to amend the school calendar to make the last formal day of school May 20 for teachers and students, per Aguero’s suggestion. The school will host numerous upcoming events, including a parade, athletic banquet and graduation ceremony, among others. To view the school calendar, visit https://www.marfaisd.com/events.
Lastly, the board voted to delegate hiring authority to the superintendent until August 2022 in order to expedite teacher hiring processes over the next few months. The school district is currently hiring for a number of positions. As is routine, the school board went into executive session to discuss contracts for the 2022-2023 school year.
When reconvening after closed session, the board announced they accepted resignations of Elementary ESL Coordinator Bernadette Devine, elementary teacher Evalice Arguello, and teacher Emily Steriti.
Correction: a previous version of this article listed the board as accepting a resignation from Cheri Aguero. They in fact accepted the resignation of teacher Evalice Arguello, not Aguero. We regret the error.