MISD board discusses Hunter Gym restoration, prospective school bond, and updates to teacher housing

MARFA — At Thursday night’s regular Marfa Independent School District Board of Trustees meeting, members heard updates on the Hunter Gym restoration project, discussed the prospective school bond the district is considering as a means of funding infrastructure upgrades, and approved a significant decrease in rental rates for teachers while discussing options for acquiring new housing.

Hunter Gym restoration update

Mike Green, president of nonprofit group Friends of Hunter Gym, told the board the group was eager to move forward with the restoration process for the historic adobe structure, but first a lease agreement with the school district must be finalized and signed. Green, joined by group secretary Bob Schwab, presented a marked-up rough draft of a lease agreement for the board to review. 

Using the district’s agreement with the Blackwell School as a model, the group is proposing a lease of $1/year for a 10-year period, at which point the lease would be re-negotiated. The group hoped to have a lease signed within the coming month.

There are some outstanding questions regarding insurance, noted Green, and how best to coordinate the group’s insurance policy with that of the school — some community days that will be hosted at the gym may pose “unique liability issues,” he said.

“We would like to explore some of the markups and the content with the insurance provider, so we’re in sync with them, we’re fully covered, so we can move forward with a safe, responsible project restoration,” said Green.

The next step will be clearing out the space so the group can air it out and evaluate the conditions — the gym currently holds “some valuable content,” said Green, that he hopes to give away to teachers or staffers who could use them. Superintendent Oscar Aguero said he had conducted a walk-through of the space and that everything except for desks could be removed.

The restoration, which will include remediating structural issues caused by moisture, will cost an estimated $1.5 to $2 million dollars. Once the space is restored, the group hopes to turn it into a community space. 

School bond update

Aguero provided a brief update on discussions around a possible school bond, which could appear on the ballot this coming November if the district moves forward with the plan. Aguero said he had recently reviewed existing school facilities with architecture firm Claycomb Associates, Architects, which the district has hired as consultants on the bond, to get a rough idea of what the district would require from a restoration or replacement project and how that lines up with the facilities in place. Aguero said that the front half of the high school and Hunter Gym would be untouched, and also noted that boosters had implored them not to take away the concession stand.

Ultimately, a community committee made up of staff members, parents, and community members will guide the bond process and determine the district’s critical infrastructure needs. It has not been decided whether those infrastructure upgrades will simply require a renovation or will bring in new buildings.

More specifics will be hammered out in an hours-long workshop with the architecture firm, which was scheduled to take place on June 6 at 5 p.m.

Teacher housing

With leases up this month, the question of rent for teachers living in district-provided housing was on the table. The board voted to reduce the rates paid by teachers by about half for the year 2022-2023, at the suggestion of Aguero, while rates for non-employees living in the district housing will remain the same. 

Aguero noted that even the non-employee housing, often occupied by city and county employees, was below market rate. “If it’s a non-employee, it’s usually a public servant,” he said. “They’re providing a service for us as well.”

Next, the board discussed the possibility of acquiring more housing for teachers. Aguero noted that, per the architecture firm advising them on the process, this was something that could potentially be covered by a school bond, if the district takes that route. If the bond doesn’t work out, there are a few other potential options for housing — none of which include buying an existing house in Marfa, which is not feasible in the current market, said Aguero.

The district currently has several plots of land that Aguero classified as “weird-shaped” that could be attractive to land-owners on adjacent properties, he said — the district could potentially sell those plots of land to those neighboring land-owners, then use those funds to buy land elsewhere more suitable for new housing.

Aguero also noted he had started initial conversations with the local housing authority, which is planning to purchase land in Marfa for the purpose of building affordable housing, he said. In those initial talks, said Aguero, the authority indicated that one-third of whatever housing they built could be designated for teachers.

Whatever route the district ends up taking, Aguero said he believes that building more teacher housing would be a draw for prospective employees.

“I do believe that would help draw some teachers in the future — saying, hey, we have this,” said Aguero. “That’s what a lot of the smaller districts have — they just have a little plot of land that has several houses and it’s the teacher community.” In fact, Aguero said he uses the current teacher housing as a recruiting tool for prospective teachers, sometimes instead of giving it to a teacher already with the district — a practice he acknowledged was not always popular, but is integral to building staff.

The topic will be an ongoing discussion raised at future meetings.