Stephen. F. Austin Middle School, a historic campus in Bryan built in 1938 as a high school, has outlived its time as an academic building, Bryan school district officials say, but the building itself isn't going anywhere.
The fate of the middle school has been one of the most contested issues of the school district's $132 million bond package. With a yes from Bryan voters, the building would become the home to Bryan's central school administration, while the middle school students would receive a new building on the other side of the campus.
Why SFA can't function as academic space
District administrators continually have said the current Stephen F. Austin campus no longer is practical as a school building in terms of classroom size, safety and practicality.
The campus has 30 exterior doors that remain unlocked at all times so students can move about between the three buildings, which is a safety issue, said Bryan Superintendent Tommy Wallis.
"The campus was built in 1938, so it was fantastic as a school then, but we didn't have the school safety issues that we have currently," he said.
The building is also not friendly for students who are physically challenged, said middle school principal Brandon Jayroe. The campus has a ramp on each end, but students with any kind of physical disability have to cross the entire building to get to a ramp or elevator, he said.
Nearly one quarter of the classrooms are smaller than the state guidelines for classroom size, Jayroe added. According to Texas Administrative Code from the state education agency, classrooms "shall have a minimum of 700 square feet per room." At SFA, the classrooms in question are between 550 and 700 square feet, Jayroe said.
The state codes were last updated in 2004, so any building constructed prior to that day is grandfathered in, meaning it does not have to abide by those minimum class size rules, said TEA spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson.
So per the administrative code, the district wouldn't receive a penalty or punishment from the state for having smaller-than-regulation classroom sizes, and also would not be required to enlarge those classrooms unless any renovations impacted at least half of the school, she said.
"These are rules, now law," Culbertson said. "If they decide they want to upgrade the school, and they make significant changes ... then they have to go under the 2004 standards."
Those administrative codes, however, are set to change in 2015, she said, and as of now the agency does not know if those square footage minimums would rise.
While the district isn't at risk of being penalized by the state or forced to make changes due to the classroom sizes, those rooms simply don't function well as learning space anymore, said Fran Duane, a Bryan parent and member of the facilities committee that recommended the bond.
Duane, a mother of four, said the committee toured the middle school and discovered the walls between classrooms were made of concrete, so they couldn't be expanded easily to become wider. The classrooms could only be expanded to become longer, which isn't practical for teaching purposes with children at the far back of a room, she stressed.
"If we know if can't be repurposed to classrooms because it's concrete, and we know the infrastructure's not there for classrooms, the best use of it would be to consolidate administration and then be able to sell the rest of these properties," she said.
Central administrative building
In order to remain as the current district administration building, the facility on South Texas Avenue would need various improvements, said Wallis, including a new boiler and heating, venting and air-conditioning system. With about 80 administrators and clerical workers inside, though, a major issue is space.
"When you have people in the current central administration building working in closets, that were actually made for closets, and they're now office space, that's not efficient for anyone," he said.
He countered an argument that the district simply has too many administrators by saying Bryan spends below the state average for both campus and central administration, indicating every staff member is needed, he said.
And those administrators are spread across the city at the Travis B. Bryan Building on Texas Avenue, the technology building also on Texas Avenue, the distribution center off Earl Rudder Freeway near Tabor Road and the landscape facility near Texas 21.
By centralizing the administration, the school district would not have to bring employees from the distant offices for meetings and, thus, would improve communication, said Lindsay Cravatt, a technology instructional coach for the elementary schools.
"A single location, to me, and to all the other people [is] a necessity, it'll save time," she said. "When you're talking about having different places, coordinators, administrators, we wouldn't have to travel from one place to another. That would be ideal."
The move also would keep district documentation under one roof, Wallis said. Student and personnel files currently are stored in a fenced area inside the central distribution center.
And with SFA in need of updated or new facilities, and the administration staff in need of a new home, the move was a logistical solution, Duane said.
"Build a whole new school that's state of the art, because the kids deserve that, and then you make this one function within the confines that it has as an administrative building," she said. "Consolidate everybody in there, it's more efficient, it's more effective, and our kids get a new school."
The centralized building also would serve as a home to the departments of special education, athletics, career and technology and fine arts. Special education and the Disciplinary Alternative Education Program both would move out of their current spot at Bryan Collegiate, allowing that high school to expand and accept more students, Wallis said.
Were district administration to centralize into SFA, it would become the home to roughly 150 to 200 central administrators, secretaries and district staff. The current administration building, the technology building and the landscape facility would be sold, and the proceeds would be placed into the general fund to help with some of the other infrastructure issues not covered by the bond, said Amy Drozd, the assistant superintendent of business services.
The district's distribution center on Earl Rudder Freeway would remain, since there is not sufficient space at SFA for the warehouse, she said.
In order to convert the historic building into the administrative complex, the campus would need new finishes, ceilings, lighting, Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility and restroom renovations. The price tag would run around $7.8 million, according to the facilities master plan.
New Stephen F. Austin campus
If the district were to construct a new school campus, the facility would cost about $34 million, according to facilities report. The current building holds about 870 students, and the new school would hold roughly 1,100.
The new facility would be three stories, and the current gym would be renovated into classroom and library space. The only part of the middle school that would be torn down is the career and technology shop classes, Wallis said.
The Odyssey Academy, a program featuring science, engineering, technology and math, would remain at Stephen F. Austin, and INQUIRE Academy, a program for gifted and talented or high-achieving students currently at Jane Long, would move to Davila Middle School, Wallis said.
The new building would be constructed while middle schoolers attend classes on their current campus. Were the bond to pass, the district would enter the planning state for at least six months, so dirt would likely turn no earlier than one year. The campus then would take two years to construct, Wallis said.
"Everything from the Bronco gym to the Civic Auditorium would be under one roof, with one entrance and one exit only," he said. "It keeps our kids a lot safer."