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Wilson schools propose $7.7 million bond for elementary remodel, stadium upgrades

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite
A small pothole collects loose gravel in front of the Wilson Junior/Senior High School Gymnasium Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. Voters will decide a $7.7 million bond proposal next month that includes paved and striped parking.

WILSON - Voters will decide on a $7.7 million bond proposal next month that could launch sweeping upgrades to aging district facilities. The school system expects to release a promotional video ahead of the Feb. 9 vote in a push to draw community support for the project. 

A complete remodel of Wilson Elementary School and multiple upgrades to Skinny Stewart Stadium, including a community track, are among the biggest proposed changes for the Wilson Public School system. Secure entryways at all campuses, updates to the ag shed, a new roof on the J. Wesley Hull Gymnasium, drainage upgrades along with paved and striped parking lots will complete the proposed project. 

The aging home bleachers and press box at Skinny Steward Stadium in Wilson on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. According to a promotional video for a $7.7 million bond proposal, portions of the stadium date back over 75 years.

Superintendent Tonya Finnerty said she is excited to potentially lead such a large project. She learned a little about the bond process while a principal at nearby Lone Grove Public Schools and said that keeping taxes level was one of the most important aspects of the proposed project. 

“We looked at possibly remodeling our high school,” Finnerty said on Thursday. “We chose to put that on the backburner for right now and focus on our oldest building, which is our elementary.” 

The elementary school building was built between 1968 and 1969 and currently has a host of deficiencies, including noncompliance with standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Finnerty said that lights, floors, restrooms, playground equipment and lockers are among the most pressing upgrades.  

According to a preliminary video shared with The Ardmoreite, underutilized space in faculty areas and single-pane windows throughout the building also cause inefficient use of school resources. 

“Some of the things are out-of-date in the building, — a lot of the electrical, the A/C units and things like that — are some of the original pieces and parts,” said teacher Johnny Richardson in the video. 

A "No Parking" sign near the J. Wesley Hull Gymnasium in Wilson on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. A proposed $7.7 million bond will provide a new gym roof and paved parking across the entire district.

Wilson voters last approved a bond issue in 2019 when the school borrowed to upgrade the new gymnasium and parts of the district’s bus fleet. Public documents under the Bond Transparency Act of 2017 show just over $1.1 million in outstanding principal on those past bond issues. 

Finnerty said an older 14-year bond is nearing its end which opens up the district for more bonding capacity without affecting current taxes. “As that has paid off, our bonding capacity has built back up and that final payment will be as this one is coming on,” she said. 

For Finnerty and the Wilson Public Schools Board of Education, the tax issue was one of the biggest concerns while developing the district upgrades. She said lots of consideration was given to the economic distress brought on by the pandemic last year, including hits against the energy industry that many Wilson families rely on. 

The sign for Skinny Stewart Stadium with home bleachers in the background on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. Among the proposed upgrades for the Wilson High School football field is a community track.

“When it came up time that we had bonds expiring, we tried to compile a list of things that we could complete within our budget without raising the taxes,” said board member Justin Nipp in the promotional video.  

“We kind of had to weigh the options there on some things that we could complete in that, some things that were outside of the budget, and that’s why we came up with this list,” he said. 

If the bond is approved by voters, residents can expect work to begin in the late summer with security upgrades at the early childhood center, elementary, middle and high schools. Finnerty hopes to get a few home football games played during the fall before work begins at the stadium, and the project would conclude after about 18 to 24 months with paving and striping of parking lots across the campus. 

Finnerty said she and her staff have worked in recent years to improve the academic offerings available to students. She believes that staff has raised academic standards during her tenure and now wants the campus to reflect those changes. 

“With the passage of this bond, we’ll be able to do that and give our students not only a worthwhile education, which they’re getting now, but a space of pride to represent that,” she said. 

“It’s what our Wilson kiddos deserve.”