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If passed, $132M bonds would put Sul Ross Elementary students all under one roof, repurpose Milam Elementary

If passed, $132M bonds would put Sul Ross Elementary students all under one roof, repurpose Milam Elementary

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If passed, $132M bonds would put Sul Ross Elementary students all under one roof, improving safety

Students at Sul Ross Elementary School walk between two of the four buildings around the campus Tuesday before dismissal. A proposed $132 million bond would allow BISD to demolish three of the current buildings and rebuild the school campus into one central building, keeping one of the older buildings for a cafeteria with expanded lines and room. The bond goes up for a vote during the Nov. 4 general election.

The temperature is just over 60 degrees Tuesday morning, so the second-grader at Sul Ross Elementary school tucked her hands into the sleeves of her bright blue sweater while she trudged outside of the school building to the nurse's office.

She wasn't alone, though: Mary Jane Gray, an instructional aid in physical education classes, led the brown-haired student along the sidewalk to enter into the main building.

The second-grader had fallen ill during PE, Gray explained. She is required to be escorted by a teacher or staff member from the gym to the nurse, for Sul Ross is composed of one main structure and three separate wings. The spaces between the buildings are wide-open, so anyone can, and does, move through the school grounds.

This means no children are allowed to walk around outside by themselves -- students moving from wing-to-wing to go to the gym or to lunch must walk in a line as a class along with their teacher, and children needing to visit the front office or nurse must be lead by a staff member.

After Gray dropped off the young student at the nurse's office, a front office staffer would call her parents to have her picked up from school or escort her back to her class.

"We're not enclosed, so we never want a child to wander outside of the building," Gray said. "They're always escorted, all the time. Safety is our main concern."

The layout of Sul Ross Elementary is one of the issues that district and campus officials wish to fix in order to increase student safety. The elementary is one of two Bryan schools that would receive a new campus if the $132 million bond issue is passed by district voters in November.

With voter approval, the district plans to construct a new school building that both improves the safety and security for the students and prepares for enrollment growth in the future. The new school would cost close to $16 million, according to the district's facilities master plan.

The elementary school was constructed in 1961 and was last renovated 14 years ago, said Sul Ross principal Kristina Brunson. As of Tuesday, 316 students were enrolled, and the building has a total capacity of 360, she said.

The new elementary school would hold between 600 to 650 students as a buffer for future growth. The new building would also be encapsulated, so all of the students and staff members would be under one roof.

The students and staff make due with the structure of the school, but it does have its effects, Brunson said; the five grades are separated throughout the main building and the three wings, so students do not get the chance to interact with other grades as much as on other campuses. Classes also travel together to the library once per week, which has led to a drop in circulation since students cannot come and go once they've finished reading their book to exchange it, she added.

Since all students are required to move between the wings with a guide, time is taken away from teachers and staff members, she said. The children have to be picked up and dropped off by administrators, which often falls upon the duties of the front office.

Brunson said it's not an ideal structure for safety, but parents seem to know the staff has procedures in place to transfer the students around the school.

"I think, because of the procedures we have in place, the parents don't really worry because they know we're monitoring, but from a principal's standpoint, from a staff's standpoint, it heightens our awareness of everything because we are so open," she said. "We just have to have a lot of procedures in place, and it requires a lot more from our staff."

The district is planning to build an entirely new campus, aside from the cafeteria. The new structure would be built on the same lot as the existing campus, and would be constructed while students are still attending school.

Construction would take about a year, then would require a summer to connect the existing cafeteria to the new building, said Bryan Superintendent Tommy Wallis.

Milam Elementary

While most schools across the district would receive new upgrades and renovations with funds from the bonds, one school would be eliminated from the map.

Milam Elementary is scheduled to become the home to the Mary Catherine Harris School, the district's alternative education program for overage and students lacking credits.

MC Harris traces its roots back to an alternative school that opened its doors around 1990 to originally serve mostly young parents, said Amy Foster, who runs student support at MC Harris. The building has changed locations and names throughout the years, and was named after a long-time counselor in the district, Mary Catherine Harris, five years ago. The alternative school moved into an old hospital building that used to hold the Hammond-Oliver Health Science Academy one year ago, said MC Harris principal Leroy Morales.

And with that unique school building comes its quirks. The school converted the cafeteria from an old meeting room, so the food line and seating areas are stationed in different rooms across the hallway. The school programs spread through the building across the street into an annex, and the school has no room large enough for a school gathering or an assembly, Morales said.

Due to the makeshift cafeteria and lack of conference space, Wallis said moving the campus to Milam will better serve the students and show them the district cares about their success.

"It says to these kids that we believe in you, you're not a bad kid, we're going to give you a good education in a good building," the superintendent said.

The move will also allow the alternative school to expand, and Morales said he's seen a steady increase in demand for the school's programs, including classroom- and computer-based learning and GED classes. The school now educates about 260 students, though the number fluctuates throughout the year since students can enroll at their own pace. More than 150 students graduated from the alternative school last year, setting the record for MC Harris' largest graduating class to date.

The district's plan for grade realignment allows for the elimination of one elementary school, and MC Harris will function well in Milam's three-building setup, Wallis said. The elementary school is made up of three wings, which would each hold programs from MC Harris -- traditional classes, GED programs and special services, and the district Disciplinary Alternative Education Program.

It would cost the district about $2.5 million to repurpose Milam into a school for older students, which would include constructing a new front entrance and bringing restrooms up to size, according to the facilities master plan.

Morales said staff and students currently make use of what they have at their current location, though a traditional school building will be more convenient.

"We have our limitations, but we have to be flexible, we make due with what we have," he said. "The main thing is that we serve the kids, we use our resources and we get them through."

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