Pride runs deep at C.D. Fulkes Middle School, Round Rock ISD’s oldest school, says reading specialist Carolyn Shean, who has spent her entire 40-year career at the school.
“I think our students recognize that there’s a lot of history in this building, and you’ll see some of the pride that they have in that history—many of their parents and their grandparents came to this school. But I think they also see other schools and feel limited by our space.”
C.D. Fulkes would be rebuilt as a traditional middle school while retaining historical value if Round Rock ISD’s proposed Bond passes on Nov. 6. The $508.4 million Bond also would pay for a new elementary school and additional Districtwide projects. The Bond is not expected to raise the District’s tax rate, which is at a 30-year low.
The list of priorities at C.D. Fulkes is long. Prime concerns include classrooms too small to meet current Texas Education Agency (TEA) guidelines or to hold a standard class; narrow halls and stairs; noisy, aging air conditioners inside classrooms; outdated site planning that constricts the flow of students and raises security concerns; old equipment and technology; a small cafeteria; and aging underlying infrastructure.
“One of the things I see is the lack of flexible learning spaces,” C.D. Fulkes Principal Rebekah Van Ryn said. “I got the chance to go to Pearson Ranch (Middle School) with its big, beautiful commons where students were able to play with Ozobots (coding robots) and program those and be involved in collaborative learning environments…we don’t have the flexible learning spaces, which are really required in 21st century learning and future readiness of students.”
The oldest building at C.D. Fulkes dates to 1939 with a patchwork of additions occurring at least eight times over the intervening eight decades, starting in 1941.
“The site is not very large, and the site has been used and adapted to different eras of building additions, so consequently the existing facilities have grown very organically,” Terry Worcester, the chief operating officer of Round Rock ISD, said. “Some of the needs of the school are how to change that organic growth so that it works from a security point of view better, and circulation for the students better, and being able to allow the teaching staff to function better.”
Van Ryn has investigated making some improvements, such as removing locker bays to widen the main hallway, but she’s learned that it’s difficult to make changes in an older building without affecting the structure. If the locker bays were removed, the walls behind them likely would have to be rebuilt.
“As you begin to look at all these projects at C.D. Fulkes, you quickly begin to realize that the cost to replace and improve is more than 60 percent of the cost to build brand new,” Worcester said, “And if you spend that money on existing facilities, then you still have old facilities versus looking at other schools in the District that are new, fresh and are very compatible with modern learning delivery.”
Programs throughout the school face challenges because of the aging structure. For example, all science classrooms are smaller than the TEA recommends today and orchestra and band rooms are smaller than those at other schools in the District.
Worcester says the District will look at the school holistically to plan the rebuild if voters approve the Bond.
“Our goal will be to bring back a traditional middle school to C.D. Fulkes that includes athletics, modern education delivery systems, modern facilities for a cafeteria, and create spaces that have equity in regards to other middle schools in the District,” Worcester said. “We’ll study and strategize how that fits with the existing facilities on campus.”
The plan is to keep students on campus during the reconstruction, and Worcester said there are options to do that. Construction could be done in phases, leaving areas of the school intact as new buildings are built, and moving students a section at a time as the new classrooms are completed.
“The welfare of the students is always the first priority, as well as the performance of their academic work and their progress,” Worcester said. “Any decision about what to do with the student body comes out of those priorities first. Construction and design are secondary.”
The budget for C.D. Fulkes is $58 million. Anticipated expenses that could mean the total cost would reach that amount include lead and asbestos abatement, safe deconstruction, the condition of the underlying infrastructure and structure, saving original structures, and the need to work in phases because of the staff and students on campus.
“I have to budget as if nothing gets saved,” Worcester explained. “You can’t assume any one thing will happen or that any one thing won’t happen, so you take the tactic of the worst case scenario.”
Worcester readily acknowledges that it would be cheaper to add another building to C.D. Fulkes, but he says that allows the campus to grow at a standards deficiency. “That doesn’t overcome the high percentage of classrooms that are under the TEA minimum standards.” It also doesn’t fix the problems with parking, hallways, stairways, the track, security or the cafeteria.