AISD eyes gym, CATE center

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Preliminary work has begun on two long-awaited projects at Azle High School: a new $1.2 million artificial turf surface and running track for Hornet Field and a $3.5 million stand-alone indoor practice facility.

Those facilities will be paid for in cash out of the Azle Independent School District’s reserve cash, so taxpayers needn’t fret about footing the bill.

The projects are slated to be complete in August and September, respectively.

However, the AISD’s Board of Trustees is taking a serious look at ways to fund two additional projects at AHS, and taxpayers may each have to chip in a penny or two.

Sloan Harris, a principal with VLK Architects in Fort Worth, presented the results of his firm’s latest proposal for a new competition gym as well as a new career and technology education (CATE) center.

Azle High School long ago outgrew its main gymnasium, and few would question the need for a career and technology center.

Attaching both the gym and the CATE center to the existing structure would be the best solution for the campus for continuity, security, and management of the building and would be more cohesive than a disconnected building, Harris told board members.

However, during the last modification to the campus, the Azle Fire Marshal “drew a line in the sand,” Harris told the board.

“He kindly reminded me that they didn’t make us sprinkle the entire campus last time, but made it clear the next time we modify anything at all, we will have to do so,” Harris said. “I remember that.”

The proposed competition gym would contain about 38,750 square feet, seat 2,000 students, and include gym storage, separate lockers for visiting teams, concessions, public restrooms, mechanicals, locker rooms for boys’ basketball, and volleyball and coaches’ offices.

Although they considered portable seating, Harris’ firm decided to go with fixed seating to take advantage of the space below for concessions and public restrooms, Harris said.

The proposed gym would be located north of and adjacent to the existing main gym.

The proposed CATE center would be erected near where the auto technology, industrial arts and health/science departments are currently located. VLK Architects has come up with a solution that will allow the existing auto technology garage intact until construction on the CATE center is complete, at which time the garage would be demolished, Harris told the board.

Stressing that his presentation did not constitute a design, but instead a plan depicting projected square footage and a budget, Harris told the board the competition gym is sort of a combination modeled after gyms they have previously built in Aledo and Midlothian.

At this point, the projected cost of constructing both the competition gym and the CATE center is $20,120,000 assuming a start date of June 2014.

“We’ve done just about all we can with the cash we’ve been able to reserve,” board president Bill Lane said. “We’re looking at ways now to refinance some bonds and other things we can do to make this project as cost-efficient as we can for the taxpayers.”

Unless the Texas legislature restores the millions in funding the AISD has lost in recent years, chances are the trustees will be calling for a bond package for voters to decide on in the foreseeable future.

Right now, it looks like that package might ask the average taxpayer for about $40 dollars – maybe less – a year in order to construct the gym and CATE center.