For at least two years, the Waxahachie ISD board trustees have argued over how to handle one of the key buildings involved in the district's desegregation — whether to tear down or repair Turner Gymnasium because of foundation issues.
And as of the Aug. 25 board meeting, trustees might be back to square one on the decision, following the presentation of a total construction cost for renovations and repairs not exceeding $600,000. First, however, a vote to approve the only bidder for the renovations will have to pass on Monday, during the next general body board meeting. Currently, board members seem split on the idea of voting.
WISD officials only received one bid to do the work on the Turner Gym project for a total of $483,750 from Mark, Inc., an architecture firm that redid Richard’s Park and the softball field.
First, board members were upset only one bid came in after Gallagher Construction Services placed the bid ad and ran two bid meetings, where three possible bidders showed up to each meeting, including one who wasn’t Mark, Inc. and attended both.
“I missed the July meeting, but why did Gallagher get the responsibility of doing the bid?” said board vice president Evelyn Coleman, who has been on the board since 2007.
Gallagher was named the construction manager for the project, but once Mark, Inc. put in a bid, Gallagher Construction officials told WISD officials the bidder could handle the project without the help of Gallagher, said Ryder Appleton, WISD’s support services director. Appleton said he agreed with the assessment from Gallagher, and Gallagher would only be a phone call away if help was needed.
In rounded figures, Appleton broke down the cost, stating Mark, Inc.’s bid for construction. Sparks Engineering, Inc. estimated a cost of an additional $30,000 in October, which the board approved. Ecosystems Environmental, the district’s asbestos consultant, estimated $24,000 and $11,00 to remove and manage the asbestos in the gym’s floor, which the board also approved. Altogether, the project cost comes to $548,750. The school district will be handling the restoration of the gym’s restrooms internally at an additional $20,000, bringing the final estimated total to $568,750, Appleton said. Then, if the board allows a 5 percent contingency, the cost will be $597,187.50, covering all application permits, fees, and construction costs.
“I will tell you, it’s a very serious thing for us to consider the 5 percent contingency, because we always run into skeletons,” Appleton said. “And I’m sure this project will be no different, and I’m starting at 5 percent contingency — which may be a little conservative.”
The current question at hand is whether that amount is worth spending, since Gallagher also estimated the renovations may only allow the building to last an additional 20 years, Appleton said.
The total estimated cost to tear down the building and do minimal landscaping afterward, Appleton said, was $300,000 from Gallagher Construction. This wouldn’t include putting anything in the building’s place. Currently, no district money has gone to Gallagher on the project. The restoration of the gym, if approved, would last about 110 days, Appleton said.
“I think the project came in under the amount they thought would be necessary, so they stepped away,” WISD superintendent Jeremy Glenn said about Gallagher. “They might have stepped away to remove themselves from any liability to the building. Gallagher was here last time and he said the renovations on Turner, he couldn’t guarantee would last 20 years. Knowing they’ve made a significant investment in Lumpkins Stadium, they might have stepped away because they don’t know if a $600,000 investment to this building will hold. That brings me to my question of, we’ve paid Sparks to draw up the plans, and we don’t have a construction manager to oversee the project. Is Sparks going to come back in and ensure the quality of the work meets the specifications of their drawings?”
Glenn said the project was detailed and messy work, and if the vote is approved, Sparks would be called to oversee the plans. That’s when Coleman asked when the project’s construction plans would finally be put on the agenda to vote. Glenn said this would be on Monday’s agenda.
Part of the project includes looking to remove some of gym’s floor because asbestos impacts about 20 percent of the gym’s wood floor. Another part included how to keep a tree near the gym from drawing moisture out of the soil under the building, as well as several other ways to stabilize a buckling wall and address foundation issue, according to previous Waxahachie Daily Light articles.
“Let me ask, Dr. Glenn and Mr. Appleton, can y'all foresee any other options?” asked board member Joe Langley. “I’d hate to spend $600,000 on a 20-year building. That’s just – I have an appreciation for the history. I have an appreciation for what we would like to do, but $600,000 for 20 years, I can’t see that. Are there any other possibilities? Well, you could say that it’s only $300,000 to tear it down. Well, in 20 years, it may be $500,000 to tear it down.”
Langley stressed that he wasn’t in favor of tearing the building down. He wants to make sure the board has explored every other possible option to save the building and its history, he said. He said he could see spending that amount of money for a building that would maybe last closer to 75 years.
The building played an important role with Turner High School during integration, as the only school on the east side of the city. In 1965 and 1966, students were given the choice to transfer to what is currently Waxahachie High School. Most chose to stay at Turner High School, but total integration was completed the fall after the last graduating class of Turner in 1968. The school was then transformed into a campus for sixth graders and temporary offices for WISD administrators, according to local architectural historian Ellen Beasley. Beasely is currently writing an architectural guidebook about Waxahachie.
She stated, “Today, the gym interior, with the original wood bleachers banking the west wall, is one of the most intact historic interiors in the city.”
Chuck Beatty, a city council member, said in a letter to the Waxahachie Daily Light on June 8, 2013, that Turner Gym was responsible for fostering athletes who helped integrate the city, and was used for many community and school functions. Beatty was a graduate of Turner High School.
Coleman, who was also a graduate of Turner High School, asked the board if Gallagher’s opinion was reliable, referencing Lumpkins Stadium, installed by Gallagher in 2011 and found to have leaks earlier this year.
Appleton said, though he’s not a geologist, the earth in that area around the school and gym seems to move quite a bit, reiterating how Gallagher wasn’t even guaranteeing a 20-year lifespan.
“This is not a decision I want to give you a single recommendation on, to say it’s either this or that,” Appleton said. “I know we had a meeting back in the fall with the city as far as some different conversations and possibilities of a joint venture between the school district and the city.”
Glenn said at this point, those have only been discussions and nothing has been made final. He then asked the board members what additional information they would need to be able to vote on Monday, and they responded with finding out what the land or building would be used for further down the road.
“I’m very sympathetic to Ms. Coleman’s comment, and I’ve thought about this for a long time,” Langley said, asking if another opinion should be sought outside of Gallagher’s. “I don’t think I’m ready to do anything on this yet.”
Coleman then asked Langley how long it would take him to get ready. Glenn followed the question with a reminder that the longer action is not taken, the more costly it might become.
“The longer we take, the worse shape it’s going to be in,” Coleman added. “That is certain and we’ve been on this now for two years.”