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PN-GISD bond hinges on Total expansion

GROVES — The fate of a $130 million bond proposition in Port Neches-Groves Independent School District now hinges on a major expansion at a local refinery.

In June, Total Petrochemicals and Refining USA selected Port Arthur as the site for a new ethane cracker with a construction cost of $2 billion.

“One more level of decision has to be made,” PN-GISD Superintendent Rodney Cavness said, adding the decision will be made by Total officials in February. “Without them doing expansions we can’t generate a whole lot of money with our existing I & S (interest and sinking fund).”

Cavness said the $2 billion Total expansion could generate the $130 million needed.

A school district’s I & S tax rate provides funds for payments on the debt that finances a district’s facilities, according to information from the Texas Education Agency.

In late April PN-GISD approved an agreement with Total that amounts to a $108 million tax benefit over the course of a 15-year agreement with the district seeing a benefit of $7.5 million over the life of the agreement.

PN-GISD trustees along with members of the district’s bond committee heard information from Jeff Fisher of Gallagher Construction Services regarding the company’s services Monday night. The company provides program management, assists with selection of an architect, assist with bond planning and stays with the district through completion of the project.

“One of the biggest benefits to having a project manager is the time given back to your departments in not having to deal with projects. They don’t have to spend time meting contractors and architects on a weekly basis,” Fisher said, adding there is much transparency in having a project manager in dealing with a bond project. “On the construction side, since we have personnel on site everyday we make sure what is being drawn is beneficial.”

Gallagher is currently working on a $260 million bond project in LaPorte Independent School District in which $200 million goes towards construction.

The district has not hired Gallagher but Cavness anticipates a decision regarding the hiring of a construction firm to be made soon.

In September, the district’s facilities committee recommended demolishing six elementary schools and constructing four new ones — two in Groves and two in Port Neches.

Facility committee members based their recommendations on looking at last year’s demographic study and facility study, tax rate analysis and tours of the facilities. The tours showed aging facilities with the oldest built in 1948 and the youngest in 1965.

Facility committee members and Cavness praised the district’s maintenance personnel for their work to keep the schools running but new schools are needed.

Problems with the schools included failing infrastructure such as leaky roofs, old heating ventilation and air conditioning systems, mostly original plumbing and electrical issues.

On Monday night, Cavness recalled the previous information and added the bond committee needs to keep up the momentum and make sure factual information is dispersed.

Should the district decide to place the bond proposal on the May 2016 ballot they must call for the election by mid-February. If they opt for a November 2016 election they must call for the election in mid to late August.

E-mail: mary.meaux@panews.com

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