Humble ISD board members voted to approve a $575 million bond Tuesday, Feb. 13; they did not approve the inclusion of a controversial $50 million swimming pool complex.
The district formed a citizens bond committee last fall which was instructed to develop scenarios for a $600 million bond, the maximum amount Humble ISD could fund over a six-year period without increasing the debt service tax rate. The group met repeatedly for months, studying a long list of improvements identified district-wide. The committee presented two proposals for the bond to the board in January, neither of which contained the swimming complex. After a month of emails, letters and discussion, the board ultimately decided not to include the natatorium.
The 2018 bond package includes the following: $175 million for all Priority 1 and a large majority of Priority 2 projects from a recent facilities assessment; $241 million for new construction, including one new elementary school, one new middle school, the tear down and rebuild of both Lakeland Elementary and Kingwood Middle, a new Ag barn, a new and a new north transportation center; $88 million for renovation, including addition of Atascocita HS classrooms, Humble HS library and cafeteria renovations, and the addition of multipurpose rooms at 22 elementary schools; $56 million for athletics, including new gym floors and turf and a Charles Street Stadium renovation; and $15 million for Career and Technology Education.
A point of heated contention throughout the entire bond process has been a proposed $50 million natatorium. Despite heavy pressure from pro-swim parents and Humble ISD staff who pushed the idea at every bond committee meeting, neither of the two final committee plans recommended the pool. Even after the measure was defeated, swim parents were still vehemently in favor of the expensive pool. They tried everything, from pleading their case at school board meetings, and going so far as to tell the board that the 80-plus bond committee members were “confused” about the pool and that the majority of the committee actually favored it.
Rather than confusion, the bond committee decided against the natatorium based on several sound business and economic principles: the natatorium is a “want” versus a “need;” the cost-plus-build of the natatorium accounted for roughly a whopping 10 percent of the total bond package; a natatorium is the most expensive facility a school district can operate, rarely turning a profit and more than likely running up large deficits; each high school already contains a pool; and no business plan was ever produced showing how the natatorium would generate revenue.
In the end, the board agreed with and followed the committee recommendation by not including the natatorium in the bond package at a vote of 5-2. Trustees Martina Dixon and Charles Cunningham were in favor of the natatorium. Board members against the measure said that it would not be prudent to go against the committee recommendation.
“To build a natatorium would be to take away from what the [citizens] recommended,” stated Keith Lapeze. “I love the idea, but we have so many other needs,” stated Nancy Morrison. The board also concluded that for a community recovering from a devastating hurricane, it is not the right time to ask for a $50 million luxury item.
The board tabled the natatorium idea until more research and due diligence could be done regarding private/public partnerships to help fund the pool.
The board unanimously voted 7-0 to hold the bond election. If approved by voters in May, Humble ISD would be authorized to issue $575 million in bonds to fund the above projects. However, the district will not sell the bonds unless they have the capacity to sell the bonds.
Early voting begins April 23, with Election Day set as May 5.