Dallas board approves millions more for tornado-ravaged high school, but trustees unhappy with process
Dallas ISD will spend an additional $ 26.3 million to build Thomas Jefferson High School, one of three county campuses that was badly damaged by a tornado in October 2019.
The district trustees unanimously approved the cost increase during their monthly board meeting last week, but not without dismay.
Several trustees expressed their displeasure with the way in which the last minute items were on the agenda for January.
Typically, trustees are notified of changes two weeks prior to each vote. However, the updated Thomas Jefferson renovation and rebuilding numbers were released with less than a week’s notice. The trustees also had a lot of contact with the district administrators just two days before the vote.
“The fact that we are discussing this with just a few days’ notice is a really alarming place for us as trustees as we consider the size of a project like this for a community like TJ.” Trustee Karla Garcia said.
A year ago, the board approved construction projects worth nearly $ 132 million in two neighboring locations, choosing to salvage some of Thomas Jefferson’s structures – not fully rebuild – while also creating a new campus for kindergartens through eighth Class on the neighboring compound of Cary Middle approved school. Cary was completely destroyed by the tornado.
The projects were fraught with difficulties from the start:
- The district did not receive a full replacement cost from its insurance coverage.
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied the state’s request for a disaster declaration for the storms and denied the district access to federal aid.
- DISD terminated its original construction contract for the two sites and pulled out of business after an investigation confirmed irregularities regarding the use of minority-owned subcontractors. (The district’s new site manager is at risk [CMAR] The contract is with Beck, one of the community supporters of the DMN Education Lab.)
Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, who was usually reserved during board meetings, apologized before a presentation for how the changes were presented at short notice. He promised to “promise too little and deliver too much” in future construction projects.
Dwayne Thompson, the district’s chief business officer, stated that nearly two-thirds of the new request, $ 17.2 million, was an unforeseen cost – either due to the Dallas city approval process or due to the nearly year-long downtime of the existing structure.
The remaining dollars would be used to expand the original project scope. This includes upgrading the auditorium and creating “parity based on school capacity” for the high school classrooms for careers and technical education, and for the visual and performing arts.
This talk of parity angered the black trustees of the board: CEO Justin Henry, Joyce Foreman and Maxie Johnson. The trio lamented the district’s willingness to change the scope of the project in the name of equity, while other projects in the trust districts of south Dallas have traditionally not received similar considerations.
“I just want the same love and respect for my community,” said Johnson.
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