Houstonians can look forward to a transformed city with new and improved parks, school buildings, fire stations, libraries and job training sites as voters approved a historic $2.7 billion package of bonds Tuesday.
The money will fund construction projects in the city, the Houston Independent School District and Houston Community College.
Despite early predictions of sticker shock, the bond measures drew strong support from voters. The upgrades for HISD and HCC come with property tax increases, expected to start in 2014.
“All of these bond issues sought money to build Houston’s infrastructure,” HCC trustee Richard Schechter said. “By passing these bonds, Houstonians have sent a message that Houston is going to be a competitor in the global economy.”
Voters approved HISD’s $1.9 billion measure – the largest bond for a Texas school district in at least a quarter of a century – by an overwhelming majority, according to incomplete results.
“We’ll be the only urban school district in the country that all our high schools will be rebuilt from top to bottom since 2000,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said. “For the kids, it’s going to change their lives.”
Call for patience
The bond issue will rebuild, renovate and upgrade 38 schools, with nearly every high school getting a makeover.
With so many projects, students, parents and teachers will have to be patient.
Grier predicts construction will be finished on the first school in two years, with all the projects completed in six or seven years.
HISD expects to phase in a tax rate increase of nearly 5 cents by 2017. The first increase, of 1 cent, would start in 2014. The owner of a $200,000 home will pay about $70 more a year in taxes.
Grier said he started election night feeling slightly nervous, but after early vote results showed HISD’s bond issue drawing 66 percent support, he relaxed and his staff gathered at district headquarters applauded.
The city’s five bond measures total $425 million and don’t require a tax increase. The money will enhance parks, expand fire stations, renovate libraries and improve other city facilities.
Sign of optimism
Mayor Annise Parker anticipated victory while watching results with city supporters.
“Houstonians have clearly made a statement that they are optimistic about the future, and they believe in investing back into ourselves, whether that is the city, the school district or the community college,” Parker said.
Polling in the months before Election Day had shown voters generally supported all the bond measures, defying conventional wisdom that a crowded ballot would make voters wary.
Make room for nurses
HCC’s $425 million bond issue, which also passed by a wide margin despite requiring a 2-cent tax increase, will help expand the college to accommodate growing student demand. Roughly one-third of the money will go toward an expansion of Coleman College for Health Sciences, where nine out of 10 nursing applicants are turned away due largely to a lack of space.
Like HISD, the college system will take several years to finish all the projects.
Chronicle reporters Nancy Sarnoff and James Pinkerton contributed to this report.