By Jacob Sturm
On Feb. 14, voters within the Mustang Public Schools district will get the chance to vote on the schools’ latest bond proposal featuring several projects that are critical to the district and its operations.
One of the most critical projects that will address the current and projected growth in student enrollment is an expansion to the high school facilities that would feature $77M in new classrooms (including a space for functional skills students that would address current and upcoming needs for the Districts most vulnerable students), a new cafeteria and kitchen, an additional practice gymnasium, space for popular student programs such as aviation and archery, and athletic improvements such as turfing projects, purchase of equipment and a softball hitting facility.
Mustang Director of Communications, Kirk Wilson, talked about what would happen if the bond fails to pass.
“There is no Plan B,” Wilson said. “This Bond would address critical needs. There are no ‘wants’ on this project list. If the Bond failed, we would see several negative impacts to MPS including increased class sizes, deferred building maintenance, and budget cuts to name a few. The law allows Districts to repackage a failed Bond, but it must be significantly altered (based on the opinion of the State Attorney General) and would cause a delay of approximately 8-9 months where we would see the negative impacts we just discussed.”
Mustang Superintendent, Charles Bradley, said the assessment of the high school expansion identified three glaring needs the bond would address if passed.
“There’s really three things that we wanted to make sure to address when we’re building capacity at the high school,” Bradley said. “Number one is the availability of more classrooms. We’ve got to have more classrooms. We don’t have any available classrooms at the high school. That’s the story everywhere. So, we know we needed to add more classrooms.”
“The other thing (that) has been a real puzzle and ongoing concern for us would be the lunches at the high school,” Bradley said. “Right now, they have four lunches, and two are split where students go to class, break for lunch, and then go back to the same class/lesson. This is very difficult for the students and teachers alike. Last year MHS had five lunch periods. The Momentum23 Bond would provide an additional cafeteria space for upwards of 1,500 students, and its own kitchen to be self-sufficient. This would allow the high school to move to two-lunch periods for the next seven to eight years based on growth projections, and then we have the opportunity to look at the needs as we get closer to year nine and possibly address things further with future bonds. It’s important to note that this upcoming Feb. 14 vote is just for this proposal (it would be illegal to vote on a 2027 or 2031 bond). Those (2027 and 2031 bonds) are just our future plans, but could change based on needs.”
Wilson said the third area that the high school expansion would address is the space for program-specific needs.
That includes the Aviation Program, which Wilson said is currently housed in a biology lab, which is not ideal for the program’s needs and also because the district needs the space for biology classes.
Bradley also mentioned technology classes in rooms that were not designed for the needs of modern day technology such as not enough electrical outlets and lack of adequate internet connectivity for the space.
“This would also benefit programs like the aviation that Kirk mentioned, along with archery, eSports and more,” Bradley said.
Functional skills classes are for students with severe disabilities. Currently, the high school has four classrooms for these students that have been remodeled to meet their needs.
The bond provides an opportunity for developing a new space that is specifically designed to meet the needs of the current students as well as address the needs of students who are currently in Mustang’s K-8 schools, but will matriculate to MHS.
“This is an opportunity, and something that I’m pretty passionate about, is that we’re now going to build a facility for them in the form of classrooms that are built with that in mind,” Bradley said. “This expansion gives us a chance to do that.”
A Second High School
So, does a potential expansion from this bond remove future discussions for an additional high school? According to Bradley, that answer is no.
In fact, he cautioned people from thinking the expansion would eliminate an additional high school in the future.
Bradley said the expansion would not take an additional high school off the table down the road. He said the discussions about adding a high school have happened in the long-range planning committee as far back as 2015.
“Those conversations are happening, but a second high school cannot physically happen right now,” Bradley said. “It’s not a conversation about should, because that is a good conversation, but it is really a conversation about could or can, and the answer is that we cannot afford it at this time. If you look at the numbers (given inflation and current pricing) per square-foot to build buildings, we would be looking at $300 million or more to build another high school, and we cannot access that much funding due to our current bonded indebtedness. However, if we could, it would not be a mirror-image (of the existing high school); It would be smaller and students would not have the opportunities provided by the Science Academy, Performing Arts Center, and the like. I would equate it to an expanded middle school, but even if we built this smaller/lesser school, it would mean that we would fail to address literally any other need, from growth at the elementary level to operations, for approximately 10-12 years. That would not be responsible.”
“But that is not the end of the story,” Bradley said. “The good news is that with our new approach to bonds, where we look at a shorter cycle and more frequent bond proposals, we would be able to pay off existing debt faster which would allow for the conversation about whether or not to build another high school to actually happen. This phased approach would essentially free up future decision-making and move this conversation from can to should.”
Nowhere to go but up
With the district growth, and an additional high school not being a possibility, creating more capacity through the proposed bond will address the districts immediate needs.
“The question becomes where do we build the (new two-story) expansion,” Bradley said. “The primary expansion location is in the footprint of the old gymnasium, meaning that the facility would need to be demolished.”
“We’re fully aware of the history, and proud of the history of the events and the milestones that have happened in that gym,” Bradley said. “For example, the Bob Pigg era with all the state championships, and all of the different events that have happened in that space. We’re not running into this eager that we get to tear down another building. These decisions come with a lot of thought and a lot of consideration. We have to find a way to balance the needs of our existing and future students with our desire to preserve and revere the history. These spaces have a lot of meaning to people, and so we do go into this with extreme caution, but with optimism for what it would mean for the future.”
The school would plan to sell and/or give away pieces of the old gym floor, and would recognize the history of the old gym inside of the new facility.
Those with further questions on the high school expansion proposal, or anything concerning the Momentum23 bond can email MERCcontact@mustangps.org.
Check registration, request your absentee ballot and more at the Oklahoma Voter Portal. The last day to register to vote is Jan. 20 and the final day to request an absentee ballot is Jan. 30.