New dashboard tracks costs, construction for South Dallas school bond projects

By Keri Mitchell, Founder + executive director
Dallas, Texas | local government, education, civic issues, investigative and enterprise reporting

October 27, 2020

South Dallas

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Co-published by our media partner, the Dallas Weekly

The Nov. 3 presidential election is attracting record numbers of early voters in Dallas to the polls, but there are local decisions to be made, too, including five Dallas ISD bond propositions totaling $3.7 billion.

No major facility replacements or additions are slated for South Dallas schools in the 2020 bond package, though it does include $41.3 million to build school-community hubs in four high school zones, including South Dallas’ Lincoln High School.

Though each ballot notes that “this is a property tax increase,” wording required by a state law passed last year, DISD trustees say they won’t need to increase the current tax rate to cover the largest bond package in the district’s history.

In the middle of early voting, which lasts through this Friday, Oct. 30, the school district released a new data dashboard that tracks costs and construction progress on its $1.6 billion 2015 bond package. The dashboard “provides real-time data on all current and completed bond projects,” according to the 2015 bond website.

“To see the exact project budget, place your cursor over the blue line next to the project’s name,” the site instructs. “For additional details, select the project from the drop-down menu.”

We’ve pulled the data from projects at South Dallas schools, all in Trustee Justin Henry’s District 9, to chart their construction timelines, costs and completion expectations.

Lincoln High School

Total budget: $12.34 million

Spent so far: $12.34 million

Original construction timeline: July 2017 through December 2018

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Actual construction timeline: July 2017 through October 2018

The 2015 bond advertised funds “to expand the career and technology education (CTE) programs” at Lincoln, with the potential for culinary arts, information technology, health sciences or hospitality/tourism. The school now has a B-TECH program for students to “explore a wide range of career interests in the fields of hospitality management or logistics.” Funds also enhanced the gym and locker rooms, the auditorium and the science labs.

The “Great” James Madison High School

Total budget: $29.41 million

Spent so far: $3.26 million

Original construction timeline: April 2019 through August 2021

Current construction estimate: March 2021 through November 2022

A new two-story competition gymnasium that will double as a storm shelter is a major part of the updates to Madison. Because the circa 1916 building is a historical landmark, all changes required zoning approval from the City Plan Commission, which reviewed and approved the changes in August 2020, and the City Council, which gave its green light on Oct. 13, 2020.

Billy Earl Dade Middle School

Total budget: $280,000

Total spent: $280,000

Original construction timeline: April 2017 through April 2018

Actual construction timeline: April 2017 through April 2018

Dade’s new campus, kitty corner from its former, vacant campus, was constructed with 2008 bond money. The 2015 bond covered technology improvements for the school.

Paul L. Dunbar Learning Center

Total budget: $4.59 million

Total spent: $4.59 million

Original construction timeline: May 2018 through June 2019

Actual construction timeline: July 2018 through April 2019

The money for Paul Dunbar focused on “roof improvements, HVAC system improvements, interior improvements, site improvements and exterior facade enhancements, plumbing improvements, technology improvements.”

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Arts Academy

Total budget: $9 million

Spent so far: $1.42 million

Original construction timeline: January 2021 through August 2021

Current estimated timeline: March 2021 through November 2021

The plan to turn Martin Luther King Jr. Learning Center into an arts academy wasn’t part of the publicized 2015 bond projections. Late last year the district finalized its decision to make the center an open-lottery transformation campus focused on the arts, dubbing it a “Baby Booker T.” that would feed into the Downtown arts magnet.

Joseph J. Rhoads Learning Center

The 2015 bond package anticipated “the construction of a new PreK–5 elementary school in District 9 to replace Joseph J. Rhoads Learning Center.” Instead, the board voted to change J.J. Rhoads’ attendance boundaries in March 2020, soon after the pandemic began, in anticipation of a new H.S. Thompson Elementary School opening in fall 2021. At that point, Rhoads will transition from an elementary school to a PreK-3 through first-grade school, which “is good news for South Dallas families,” Trustee Henry wrote in a May 2020 Dallas Weekly paid editorial, “giving our youngest learners a strong academic foundation.”

H.S. Thompson Elementary School

H.S Thompson Elementary

Current budget: $27.55 million

Spent so far: $24.65 million

Original construction timeline: December 2019 through May 2020

Current estimated timeline: May 2020 through May 2021

The board voted to close H.S. Thompson in 2011, citing underutilization, then in its 2015 bond package, DISD included the possibility of a new H.S. Thompson. The idea then was to reopen it as a Montessori magnet, but more recently, the district shifted to reopening it “possibly as a STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts and math] campus.” The school is being constructed on its former site in Bonton, and is slated to open in fall 2021 as “a two-story, 85,000 square foot building on a 5.7-acre site to include 23 core classrooms, a storm shelter, library/media center, maker space, cafetorium, and gymnasium.”

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Top to bottom: H.S. Thompson Elementary site plan, collaboration stair, cafeteria/stage.

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