The Bowie marching band, which enrolls over 400 students, uses a facility built for about 120. – photo by Ingrid Morton
by Bobbie Jean Sawyer
Bowie High School students, parents and staff are one step closer to getting what many describe as much needed relief from overcrowding and poor conditions in the school’s fine arts and athletics departments.
In a board meeting on Feb. 25, AISD board of trustees voted to move forward with an $892 million bond package, which will go to ballot on May 11.
The bond is divided into four propositions:
• Proposition 1: $140.6 million for health, environment, equipment and technology
• Proposition 2: $233.9 million for safety and security and relief from overcrowding
• Proposition 3: $349.2 million for academic and building infrastructure renovations and repairs
• Proposition 4: $168.6 million for academic initiatives, fine arts and athletics
If the bond is approved by voters, Bowie stands to benefit from facility repairs and expansions to physical education and fine arts departments.
AISD board of trustees member Robert Schneider said while he had serious reservations about portions of the bond, he decided to send it out for the voters to decide.
“There were a couple of propositions that I did not agree with at all. There were fundamental issues with the bond that I think are deeply, deeply flawed, but I didn’t see much point in voting against it. It would have probably been an 8 to 1 vote,” Schneider said. “I ultimately came to a place where the voters are going to vote on this in the main election and I thought there was some merit in sending at least two of the propositions out for the voters to either vote up or down.”
Schneider said the amount of the bond, the largest in AISD history and larger than the last two bonds combined, is the result of prolonged mismanagement and inefficient use of facilities.
“AISD is not willing to manage its budget to the point where we can pay for at least some of our maintenance and operations expenses out of our regular maintenance and operation budget instead of having to go up for a bond,” Schneider said. “We have unfortunately got into a pattern where we routinely defer major maintenance like fixing a roof or replacing an AC and putting those kinds of things to bond issues.”
Cyndi Harrison, co-chair of the Athletic Bond Proposal Committee, toured Bowie as part of a parent task force consisting of about 16 parents, along with coaches, administrators, principals, teachers, maintenance professionals and engineers.
Harrison is the parent of four Bowie graduates, all of whom have been involved in either athletics or fine arts. She has also served as PTA president and co-booster president for the Bowie football team.
Harrison said one of the major problems facing Bowie athletics is on the field, adding that she hopes to see synthetic turf added to the football field.
“It really helps with kids when they fall. It helps with allergies,” Harrison said. “As a health and safety issue it would be great for our kids to have a turfed field.”
But Schneider said some outside renovations, such as outdoor restrooms and storage facilities, may not be a possibility for Bowie.
“The athletics stuff, especially for southwest Austin, is totally misleading. They’re talking about putting in synthetic turf fields, which Bowie can not do because synthetic turf fields are considered impervious cover by the city,” Schneider said.
Yesenia Garcia, AISD public relations coordinator, said outside improvements to Bowie would be assessed through a feasibility study.
“The designer conducting the feasibility study is charged with gathering the facts and working with the City of Austin to determine what improvements will be permitted,” Garcia told the Gazette. “Austin ISD will be working with the City of Austin’s administration to request as much flexibility as possible as the implementation plans are developed.”
Garcia said whether or not Bowie will be able to install turfed fields is still to be determined.
But Harrison said the most pressing issue is inside the facilities.
“The biggest issue by far is the locker room situation,” Harrison said. “Each one of the football teams has exceeded locker space. It’s to the point where you’ve got two or three people to a locker.”
Harrison said extra-curricular program facilities should receive the same upkeep and care awarded to traditional classroom facilities.
“One coach from Crockett put it very well. He said ‘our playing fields are our classrooms.’ That is so true. The field and the weight rooms and the gyms, those are our classrooms,” Harrison said. “Parents would be mad and upset if their children were in classroom-type situations with those conditions. They would not stand for it. Because of that, our parents should not stand for, and our communities should not stand for our children being in those types of conditions where our classrooms are not where they should be, clean-wise, health-wise, safety-wise.”
Harrison said safety at Bowie is valued above high dollar renovations.
“It’s not like we want a big huge weight room with mirrors and loud music blaring and the whole shebang. We just want safe, healthy, clean conditions for our kids,” Harrison said. “Number one on all the coaches minds was always safety first.”
As a Bowie parent, Harrison said she’s also witnessed serious maintenance and overcrowding issues in the fine arts department. The roof leaks, many of the seats in the theater are broken and there’s no space for props. Parts of the theater are even blocked off due to unsafe conditions, Harrison said.
“There’s caution tape right now in certain sections where kids are not allowed to go into. That’s how desperate and dire our situation is,” Harrison said. “There’s always something happening inside that theater. It really is in disrepair from constant use. Everything has been completely warped.”
Harrison said the fact that the trustees voted in unanimous support of the bond propositions would resonate with voters.
“They’re showing a united front to the entire community of Austin saying ‘we are behind this bond.'”
Harrison, who launched an email campaign to bring Bowie stakeholders out in support of the bond, said she’s confident the community will vote in favor of schools in May.
“We want simple things where our kids can be safe in fine arts and athletics and where we don’t have to have AISD come close to condemning the theater and closing it down or our kids get injured or sick from conditions in the locker rooms. I really feel confident that we can bring out the votes. Our fine arts and athletics community is so big in the southwest area,” Harrison said. “I think that we are done scraping the bottom of the barrel. If we want to have great kids and educate great kids, we’ve got to put kids at the top.”
Proposed Bowie renovations can be seen in detail at:
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