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By Traci Chapman
El Reno Public Schools officials aren’t wasting any time after voters last week approved a $45.3 million bond issue.
On Monday, school board members voted unanimously to enter into a sales contract with First Baptist Church, for the purchase of its property across the street from El Reno High School. The sale price was $415,000 for a property appraised at about $460,000, school board president Steven Jensen said.
“It was a good deal for them and for us – it’s a great location and helps us with our downtown campus vision,” Jensen said.
The move came less than a week after about 73 percent of voters gave the thumb’s up for a plan that included the FBC property purchase – a location which will house a science and math wing and will provide extra space for the district’s expected growth, officials said. The church will be torn down to make way for new construction because the building could not be renovated to suit students, Jensen said.
“There was just no way it was economically feasible to do it – it would have taken millions of dollars and it wasn’t accessible for anyone in a wheelchair, there was asbestos and just lots of other issues,” Jensen said.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Americans with Disabilities Act mandate schools must make all areas available to students with disabilities. FBC’s historic church did not provide that type of access, Jensen said.
While the church will be demolished, under the plan so too will two of the district’s schools – Lincoln and Webster elementary schools. Demolition costs for the sites were included in the bond issue, although the fate of the two schools was not yet determined.
Jensen said during Monday’s meeting, El Reno Mayor Matt White would like to meet with school officials to discuss the future of those sites, as well as ways the city could assist the district with aspects of the new $13.6 million third- and fourth-grade center’s construction.
“He just wants to have an informal meeting so we can discuss how to move forward,” Jensen told board members.
Members on Monday also approved the date for the sale of the issue bonds – Feb. 6. Superintendent Craig McVay said the meeting would need to be set at noon because of stock market hours. Bond counsel will also be appointed at that time.
McVay also suggested formally thanking residents who helped make the bond issue a reality.
“I think everyone involved in the bond proposal knows how historic it was,” McVay said. “I think we should make a formal thank you as a school board and as a school.”
Members agreed, acknowledging work done by city officials in an unprecedented partnership between the district and City Council and staff.
“We need to include city and City Council, (El Reno City Manager) Tony Rivera and just the whole community because everybody worked hard on this,” Jensen said. “I don’t remember ever a time that everybody as a community pulled together and worked so hard.”
While construction of the new school is still a ways off, officials said they hoped to begin work on some schools as soon as possible, with major work beginning during summer break. That included the addition of secure entrances at Rose Witcher and Hillcrest elementary schools, as well as classroom additions at those schools, Roblyer Middle School – which will eventually be converted into a fifth- and sixth-grade center – Etta Dale Junior High School and EHS. Air conditioning will also be added to the combination cafeteria/gyms at Rose Witcher and Hillcrest.
“This is an exciting time and we are very thankful the citizens decided this investment in our children was worth it,” Jensen said during a meeting break.