A tour of the Kerens Independent School District campus is like flipping the pages of a scrapbook. Bits and pieces from every decade for the last half century share the same space, cobbled together to provide space and relatively modern conveniences for the approximately 650 children who attend school there.
For Superintendent Kevin Stanford, it’s a matter of the basics — water, sewage, air. Surveys by the Texas Association of School Boards and Tarleton State University both showed problems with the district’s infrastructure — plumbing, electrical and air conditioning systems are all showing their age. Hence, his encouragement of a bond election in the fall, to incur $15 million in debt and erect a new building for the middle school and high school.
“We’ve been planning this very slowly,” said Superintendent Kevin Stanford. “We’ve been working with an architect for two years now.”
If voters approve the plan, then the new building will be constructed, and in 10 years or so, they’ll build a new elementary. If voters approve.
The current middle school was built in 1963, and her age shows. Originally designed as the new “colored school,” the building was in construction when the district integrated the races, and so it became just another school building for all the children.The high school was built in 1967, and a lack of any heat in the district two years ago because of a gas leak points to its systemic weaknesses, where the leak began.
The elementary school was built in the 1970s and expanded in the 1980s. Its age shows, too, but the district can’t afford to take on enough debt to construct so many buildings at once, according to the district’s financial advisors, Southwest Securities.
Currently, the plan is to demolish the current middle and high school buildings, and then renovate the entrances to the elementary school for security, to build a new gym/choir room, and a new field house. The current field house is the old ag building. Its problems are multi-fold, but include the fact that there’s no weight room for girls, and no place for visiting teams to change.
When the main buildings were built, central air wasn’t included in the structures. Instead, the buildings were designed to maximize air flow, to capture the southern winds and funnel them through wide halls and huge banks of windows, through open doors that in today’s world only invite in dangerous strangers.
“We’ve been looking at security for years,” said Superintendent Kevin Stanford. “The buildings were built for ventilation. There’s almost no way to secure the campus.”
In the past, the problems have been minor — custody disputes where one parent arrives to take a child they don’t have legal rights to — but every school shooting and threat in the news makes the educators in Kerens that much more aware of their vulnerability.
By today’s standards, the buildings would be considered problematic at many levels. The windows are single pane and they leak warm air in winter and cool air in spring and fall. The buildings were modified to provide air conditioning decades ago, but because the buildings couldn’t be changed over completely, there are huge air units in the corners of the classrooms, rumbling monsters that take up as much room as a desk.
Fixes are also planned for the track around the football field, which has crumbled in places.
“We also want to fix the drainage on Bobcat Lane so the kids don’t have to do the long jump to get to the buses,” Stanford said.
Kerens has received grants and spent tax money to provide computers to its students. The teachers have cool gadgets to make lessons come alive. But there aren’t grants for air conditioners or heaters or modern bathrooms or choir rooms or big puddles.