During a spirited community meeting at the “Great” James Madison High School before the school year began, alumni and community members expressed concerns about how ongoing construction is affecting students. They requested more updates to keep students, parents and alumni informed.
Madison was part of Dallas ISD’s 2015 bond package and was allotted $45 million for renovations to its classrooms, retaining walls, roof, HVAC system, and drainage. The bond package also included a new parking lot, tennis court, track, and two-story competition gym for Madison, which was originally set to finish in November of 2022. The new two-story gym, set to be finished for the 2024-2025 school year, will also double as a storm shelter and includes a weight room, coaches’ offices, locker rooms, and band facilities.
There’s been on-going discussion that keeping students on campus was one of the reasons that construction has taken longer than anticipated. Dallas ISD says that the limitations of students remaining on campus are taken into account when creating the construction timeline. Only when there are unforeseen challenges with the structure, material shortages, or weather is the timeline shifted.
Dallas Free Press posed many of the other questions we heard from community members to Dallas ISD’s chief construction officer Brent Alfred, who is in charge of day-to-day operations and management of construction projects from the 2015 and 2020 bond programs.
Q: Can you give us a status update on Madison? What’s already been taken care of, and what’s going to be tackled in the coming months?
A: Right now, we’ve renovated some of the classroom spaces in Madison, and corridors. That’s the main work we did over the summer. We’re building locker rooms, a new track, field; we’re doing a roof replacement, and improvements and drainage around [the building].
Madison’s a historic building, and we’re trying to bring it back to its true character in the classrooms, and upgrade finishes, like painting, flooring, ceilings, lights, and making sure that the PA system is updated. Those are the main things, to brighten it up.
Q: For bond projects, how do you prioritize what gets done first?
A: We pay for an assessment, and we have an assessment performed on all our schools and they’re given a rating called FCI, facility condition index. Based on the rating, we use that data to guide our decisions, where we are and how we prioritize the projects we pick. That’s our main guiding light. We’ve also started using some other indicators, like the community resource index, to look at amenities in the area to guide our decisions.
Madison’s Faculty Condition Index was assessed as 67%. The FCI rating ranges from 0 to 100, with a higher score indicating a greater need for maintenance or improvements. Madison’s score suggests that the school had some maintenance and improvement needs but was not amongst those in the most critical conditions.
The Community Resource Index (CRI) is a measure that ranges from 0 to 100. A lower CRI score indicates that an area has fewer resources available, while a higher score indicates that the area is more resource-rich. The CRI encompasses a broad set of data reflecting the economic and social health of communities across the city. It includes measurements of residents’ median household income, levels of education, and the presence of resources such as grocery stores and health facilities.
Madison’s CRI was assessed as 31%. This score indicates that the area surrounding Madison had a moderate level of resources. When comparing Madison to other bond projects, it’s important to note that 84 schools had lower or similar CRI scores.
Q: During the Aug. 24 Dallas ISD board meeting, your team requested additional funding, not to exceed $3.8 million for the Madison project. Why?
A: Madison is a very old building, so a lot of the utilities and infrastructure have unforeseen additions when we start the construction. Once we actually started the construction, and what we saw in the plans … we’re finding different site conditions.
We’re running into other [plumbing, sewer and electric] lines while we’re routing at certain points, so we have to reroute the lines and excavate a new portion and run a new line that direction. We have to negotiate with the city, too, about the existing lines — do we abandon it, do we reroute it, do we move it? That’s what that’s about.
A: We’re looking more at the end of 2024, because we do have some more demo to do, and once we get done with all the demo phases, we’re going to have some of those unforeseen unknown conditions that pop up … I’m projecting the latter part of 2024, and I think we can hold that. I do have some floats there for some of those unknowns.
Q: How do you make sure that construction is not a distraction for students in the academic setting?
A: We really focus on, during school time, putting up hard barriers between where the students are and where the construction workers are, so they shouldn’t interact or mix… The construction workers have a separate entrance into the building if they’re working on the interior, or they’re just on the exterior of the site. We don’t do any noisy activities during the day, and that’s if we’re working during the day. Normally in the fall, we switch into evening hours, but that depends on the proximity and activity. We wouldn’t drill piers, or do that type of work during the day or school activities, it’s something we continue after hours or on the weekends.
Q: What do you think is going to be the most transformative for students?
A: I think they’ll be wild by the end project. I like having an engaged community and being able to deliver for them. It reminds me of the community I came from, and it’s my way of giving back. It’s way more satisfying when you have such an engaged community with such a history. I’m just proud and honored to be a part of the story, and be here in Dallas.
The Inside Scoop:
We tried to reach out to Madison High School’s Principal Marian Willard via email request with Dallas ISD’s communications team. We also called her at the school, but have yet to hear back. Here’s what we would like to know:
- How do parents and community members access the newsletter?
- Has enrollment at the school changed since construction began?
- Does the school expect to see an increase in students once the construction is complete?
Q: What do you think is going to be the most transformative for students?
A: I think they’ll be wowed by the end project. I like having an engaged community and being able to deliver for them. It reminds me of the community I came from, and it’s my way of giving back. It’s way more satisfying when you have such an engaged community with such a history. I’m just proud and honored to be a part of the story, and be here in Dallas.
Q: What is the best way for members of the community, parents, alumni, students, to see what work is already done and what’s upcoming?
A: I’m working on a strategy with Principal Willard. She sits in on our meetings weekly … I’m going to strategize with her and do a monthly update, like in her newsletter, we’d have a construction portion in it. I think that’ll be the best way to update the community. We also have the bond website, but that’s at a high level — design complete, construction started, construction complete — but I think [neighbors] want a little more detailed information.
Questions and responses have been edited for length and clarity.