Board hears travel center proposal, discusses athletic facility project

Reporter: Ellie Mahan

May 18, 2023

The Whitney ISD Board of Trustees met in a regular session Monday, May 8, to hear a proposal for a development on the property across from Whitney High School. The board also discussed athletic facility upgrades and heard presentations on potential solutions for the transportation parking lot and FFA activities and accomplishments.

Evan Landrum, a representative of Oxbow Development, spoke on behalf of Kim’s Convenience Store to describe the possibility of pursuing the property that is across from the high school as a proposed location for a convenience store and fast-food restaurant.

Landrum said, “We have agreed to business terms to purchase the lot across the street from the high school. On that lot, we would propose to build a roughly 7,000 square-foot travel center, complete with the new prototype of Kim’s Convenience Store, but also on the endcap, a Whataburger co-brand location, which would have two drive-thru lanes.” The convenience store and Whataburger would be under the same roof and would share restrooms. Both would be open 24 hours.

Landrum explained that Kim’s Convenience Store is a family-owned operation that originated in Palestine in 1985. Kim’s has since built in more than 20 locations throughout East Texas and has started to build in central Texas as well. The Whataburger franchisee that Kim’s plans to partner with for the co-brand has 30 years of experience in the restaurant sector in operations and is based in El Paso. He has franchised in Beaumont and in multiple locations in the Hill Country.

Kim’s has about six of the prototype buildings similar to the one that is proposed in Whitney. “They are very clean. It is a lot nicer than your regular convenience store. I can say from personal experience, I like working with Kim’s because I like seeing how they take care of their people and their staff,” Landrum said. Both Kim’s and Whataburger would hire locally, and both would employ roughly a dozen people.

Kim’s would offer diesel at the regular automobile pump but would not offer a separate diesel island specifically for trucks and 18 wheelers.

Kim’s Convenience Store sells beer and wine. Alcohol is not Kim’s number one revenue generator, but it brings customers into the store to buy other items. Kim’s would propose to sell beer and wine at the Whitney location.

Landrum concluded, “If the school board is on board with what we would like to build, we would like to then hopefully put that in front of the city and gain the public entitlements needed to build this.”

Nich Hoffman, a leader of the Whitney Touchdown Club, gave follow-up information about the expansion of athletic facilities, stating that the Touchdown Club checked the cost estimations that were provided to the board at the April school board meeting. Hoffman said, “We went back to the people who provided the estimations that Tyson gave to the board. We confirmed that they did indeed consider everything. They have worked through public school systems in Hill County and in other counties…They’ve built some similar size projects. They gave us the comfort of knowing those estimates were accurate.”

Superintendent John McCullough said that he contacted the school district’s attorneys. The attorneys advised him that if the district moves forward with the project, the district’s first course of action should be to hire an architect, who will provide preliminary designs to determine the official approximate cost.

McCullough stated, “They also said that a project that will cost over $50,000 will have to adopt a long-range facility plan and then identify the educational specifications for the building. For the long-range plan, we are required to consider input from teachers, students, parents, community members and other district stakeholders when developing the plan. Once it’s complete, it will be presented to the board for approval.”

In regards to the financing of the project, McCullough spoke with the district’s bond counselor about the options for paying for the project without using a bond. McCullough said that after considering the options that the counselor gave, he determined that at this time, the project would require the district to use money out of its fund balance. Board members stated that the district should move forward with the plans. McCullough said that he would continue researching and begin the process for the long-range facility plan and educational specifications. Then, he will bring a recommendation for an architect to the June board meeting.

Drainage and pavement issues in the district’s transportation parking lot have been under discussion at recent board meetings. Russell Gauer, director of operations, provided the board with quotes and information for three different tractor options that could help improve the maintenance of the road that leads to the bus barn as well as other areas. The Kubota Tractor that the district currently uses has 34 horsepower and turf tires instead of traditional tractor tires. Gauer recommended the purchase of a larger tractor with approximately 50 to 60 horsepower and traditional tractor tires, to supply more traction. The board planned to take the research into consideration and potentially vote on a bid for a tractor in a future board meeting.

The board also discussed the findings of the Intruder Detection Audit that was completed at Whitney High School, Wednesday, April 12. During the audit, every exterior door was locked. However, the campus did not earn a perfect score, due to one interior classroom door that was found unlocked.

Haley said one way that the district will address the findings of the report is discussing how the district can improve at its upcoming safety and security meeting, which will be Friday, May 26. There will also be in-person safety training following the meeting, and high school teachers, staff and substitute teachers will be trained on door-locking procedures. Administrators and the superintendent stated that locking interior classroom doors is not a legal requirement, but the district enforces a locked classroom door policy and will continue to follow those safety practices.

McCullough said, “The main takeaway for me is that out of the three audits we’ve had, every exterior door was locked, and they couldn’t gain entrance without us giving them permission to come in.”

The officers of Whitney FFA spoke to the board and shared their accomplishments for the year with the audience. The Whitney FFA chapter consists of 252 members. The district that Whitney competes in consists of 17 schools, ranging in size from 1A to 6A. Whitney is the third largest FFA chapter in its district, behind Waco Midway and Lorena.

The FFA shop class teaches students how to utilize tools and machinery that can one day help them earn a living. The class has built gates and signs, helped fix trailers and used a plasma cutter to create awards. FFA is also working to start an archery program at Whitney Middle School for next year. Last year, 27 Whitney FFA members became certified through the American Welding Society (AWS). This year, 16 Whitney FFA members are AWS certified so far, with many more still working on their certification.

In horticulture class, Whitney FFA students use a greenhouse to learn about plant science and all the basics they need to know for a career in horticulture. Horticulture students learn about the industries of nursery landscaping, golf course maintenance, lawn maintenance and crop science. Twenty-five horticulture students passed their BASF plant science certification test. In WHS’s floral design class, students fulfill a fine arts credit and engage in hands-on activities, such as making mums and garters for homecoming and creating floral arrangements for special occasions and holidays.

Whitney FFA also competes in stock shows, with 33 entries at the Hill County Fair this year. Altogether, the chapter won 15 championship buckles at the 2023 county fair. Multiple market animals went to sale and brought over $50,000 to Whitney FFA members who are on the show team.

After stock show season comes to a close, Whitney FFA members begin career development events. The chapter had members advance to state in the nursery landscape, forage and wildlife. Due to the chapter’s success, the Whitney FFA seniors have already been granted up to $45,000 in scholarships, with an additional $20,000 in scholarships to be handed out at the FFA banquet, Thursday, May 18.

A WHS Choir 2024 spring break trip to Disney World was approved by the board. This will be the fourth time for the WHS choir to travel to Disney World. Sheri Hayes, high school and middle school choir director and color guard director, said that the trip is open to all choir students. WHS choir will spend time at three Disney World parks, with two days being spent at Universal Studios. Students will also be able to learn from Disney staff by attending a workshop.

Hayes said, “You get to work with Disney staff. They’ll send me the music, and I teach the kids the music. Then a couple of the Disney professionals will work with us on how to make our performances better.”

WMS and WHS will both add a new course in Career Technical Education, after the board approved the innovative course proposal for the 2023-2024 school year. Whitney Middle School will exchange its course in principles of business, marketing and finance for a course in cyber citizenship, which administrators believed would be more relevant to the age group. WHS will now offer a kinesiology class as an option for students who are considering pursuing a career in sports exercise study, physical therapy or other health industries. With the addition of the kinesiology class, WHS will now have a fourth complete program of study, which will be called exercise science and wellness.

During administrator reports, Elementary School Principal Amber Seely said that the campus is in the middle of benchmark assessments, and WES has begun its spring parent-teacher conferences. Intermediate School Principal Layna Philipp said that the students on her campus are excited about the fun learning activities taking place at the end of the year. For example, The Creature Teacher did a live presentation with a kangaroo, an arctic fox and a snake, and the students were allowed to touch the creatures and learn about them.

Middle School Principal Kendra Hensley reported that the campus was finishing up all its STAAR tests and looking forward to a STAAR incentive field trip to Main Event and the last dance hosted by the PTO of the year. PTO also sponsored teachers of the year, which were voted on by the students; winners will be revealed and be given a scholarship at the middle school awards ceremony. Also coming up, Constable Justin Girsh will speak to each grade level at WMS about water safety. For the middle school’s last club day of the year, new options the students can choose to learn about are basic auto care and self defense.

High School Principal Amy Leech reported that the junior class had field trips on the schedule, as the students will be visiting Tarleton State University and also the Holocaust Museum.

The senior class will soon be participating in mock interviews, in which they dress professionally and speak with some of the 24 community members who have agreed to be a part of the day. Leech said, “The seniors sit down face to face, across the desk from businesses owners and professionals and go through the interview process with them. This is the first year I required all seniors to do it.” There are many other senior activities taking place, including field day and senior walk.

Athletic Director David Haynes spoke about the athletic success he has seen recently and throughout the year. Haynes said, “I am very proud of these kids this year. Every sport made postseason but one, and that one was knocking on the door. When you see these kids in the community, love them up because they do a great job, and they represent us well.”

Haynes said that every day in the week prior to the board meeting, a college coach was present at the high school, and representatives from Colorado State University and Angelo State University would be visiting soon. Board Secretary Jason Sneed said, “I am immensely impressed with your promotion of our kids to college coaches. I’ve never seen that level. I know the work that you’re doing, and I appreciate it very much.”

The board approved a resolution from the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) on vouchers, education savings accounts, taxpayer savings grants and other mechanisms that reduce public education funding. The resolution was a call to the legislature to reject any diversion of public dollars to private entities in the form of education savings accounts and summer vouchers.

McCullough spoke with the division director of government relations for TASB. McCullough shared, “He said an education savings account or voucher will take money from public schools.” Six school board members voted in favor of the resolution, and Sneed voted against the resolution.

The board approved the audit engagement letter with Jaynes, Reitmeier, Boyd and Therrell. It also approved the staff development minutes waiver for the 2023-2024 school year and announced that the TASB spring workshop will be Tuesday, May 23 for Region 12.

The superintendent announced the resignation of Cayla Williams, Keith Blanton, Josh Nowlin, Allyson Cliett, Penny Penney, Drew Haley and Lynda Summers. After meeting in closed session, the board took action and denied the Level III Grievance, and it also approved support staff personnel and new hires.

Selected as Whitney ISD’s staff member of the month for the month of May was Gary Kreder, who started as the seventh grade science teacher last year.

In Principal Hensley’s nomination statement, she wrote, “He works to form great relationships with his peers and students. He finds ways to make connections using common activities such as chess, sports teams and cycling. Mr. Kreder is a Capturing Kids’ Hearts Process Champion. He implements every aspect of the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program for the students.”

Kreder thanked Hensley for the nomination and attested to the great leadership he has seen from her throughout the year.

The boat voted to move its next WISD board meeting from June 12 to Monday, June 19.

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