13 Investigations: Houston ISD’s Field of Dreams comes at a time when others are absent

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — There is no true pitcher’s mound at the Kashmere High School baseball facility. The entire field is overgrown with green grass and the only patches of brown soil are around the four bases and base paths, where the grass isn’t as vibrant due to players trampling on it while running from base to base.

Across town, at Worthing High School, the baseball field is riddled with holes from portable buildings that stood on it during the rebuilding of the campus as part of the 2012 Bond renovation.

Myrna Guidry, trustee for the Houston Independent School District, said parents sometimes need to keep their headlights on the field so students have enough light to practice when it’s dark outside.

The field at Austin High is also overgrown with grass and weeds.

“These kids need to be proud of their neighborhood. If they don’t do that, they take to the streets and do what the streets do,” Guidry said. “That’s why we want to create an atmosphere on every campus where students can say, ‘I’m proud of where I go to school, and I don’t want to go to school just because of the programs, baseball and football, I want to because I like going to a nice school that has everything I need.'”

While these HISD high schools have ramshackle practice fields, across town at Bellaire High School, construction crews are completing a $4.8 million taxpayer-funded baseball and softball complex that only students attending Bellaire High use allowed to.

“I’d like to know how that’s happening now,” Guidry said.

Bellaire Stadium was approved by Houston ISD voters in 2012 as part of a $1.89 billion bond issue aimed at replacing and repairing 40 schools across the district.

The original loan included “$44.7 million to replace regional field houses and improve athletic facilities,” according to the district.

None of the current county school board trustees were in office in 2012, and there is also a different superintendent than when the bond was approved. However, the board has approved additional spending on the complex, including months ago when it approved nearly $162,000 in architectural and engineering costs to complete the Bellaire project.

“By then, the stadium was basically ready,” Guidry said. “Then what’s the point of cutting that off? And with that, of course, get the field ready, give them a nice stadium. Now come to our districts and do something in our districts.”

Bellaire project grows 88%

Houston ISD Trustee Sue Deigaard, whose district oversees Bellaire High School, said the complex first came on her radar when she was elected to the board in late 2017.

“Most of this stems from my service on the board. It’s the 2012 bond. I thought it was all settled before I got on the board. Every now and then there’s something that simmers,” she said.

Deigaard said she didn’t know what the original agreement for Bellaire Stadium was when it was approved in 2012, but argued the project needed to be completed. Otherwise, residents will lose confidence that future projects they vote for will also get completed.

“If we don’t fulfill the promise in this community, we will fight to be able to do it for another community,” Deigaard said.

Still, 13 studies found that the cost of Bellaire Baseball Stadium has increased 88% since 2012 — the highest of any project approved during the bond issue.

When the district came up with plans for the new Bellaire campus, there was no place for the school and a baseball field, but just a mile and a half away there was a soon-to-be-vacant HISD lot with enough space to build a new field.

HISD documents show that the district originally allocated $2,539,191 for “Off-Site Athletics” for Bellaire High School. A change order in May 2021 increased the cost to $4,077,677.88. HISD now confirms that the total cost of the stadium is $4,775,411.

District documents show that the prices of most projects in the 2012 HISD bond escalated due to inflation and changes in the scope of work. No project rose more than Bellaire High, which went from a $107 million project at the start of the construction program to $136 million at the latest report. Bellaire is HISD’s largest high school based on enrollment.

We asked Houston ISD how it justifies the cost of the complex at a time when the Superintendent has been enforcing equity in all schools. The district referred these questions to the school board trustees.

Houston ISD School Board President Judith Cruz said estimates would be expected to increase from the time a bond is approved until construction begins, but these cost increases should not create inequality.

“If we offer a program that is our responsibility, anything that falls under HISD should be done with justice,” Cruz said. “As far as I know, there’s still some bond money left and anything that’s spent should be done with equity in mind.”

As part of the 2012 bond issue, Austin High was set to get an all-new facility. Cruz said initial plans called for students to be sent to another facility during construction, but the district eventually moved them to makeshift buildings and the diversion of funds meant there wasn’t enough to complete other parts of the renovation.

“The plan for the temporary buildings was a prize. When they finished the temporary buildings, the price doubled, so then that took away the money that was earmarked for completing the track and baseball field and all those other facilities that were promised,” Cruz said.

When we asked Guidry if the additional funds to complete Bellaire Stadium came from another program, she said when the proposal was presented to the school board, there was no explanation as to where the additional borrowing funds came from.

“I didn’t see any casualties at Bellaire when I looked at what was being done and perhaps the administration could better assess whether they needed to pull out from here to get that done,” Guidry said. “I did not see it.”

Houston ISD has informed us that the Bellaire project is scheduled for completion by mid-summer this year.

Although additional funds have been approved to complete the Bellaire Project, other schools are not seeing the money flowing as fast.

Guidry said it would cost $14,000 to fill the holes and level the field at Worthing High’s baseball facility, but it hasn’t been done yet.
When Ted Oberg asked Guidry why, she said, “I’d like to know.”

“This is where the equity portion comes in,” she said. “We have a $4 million ballpark over in Bellaire – and please understand I have no problem with all kids having the best. I love the fact that Bellaire has a beautiful stadium, but I want beautiful stadiums in our[schools]too.”

“Can’t Even Really Play”

When 13 investigates met Cruz for an interview about the injustice of the facilities, Austin High’s baseball field was – and still is – overgrown with weeds.

“Looking at that, I think kids can’t play their best game on a field like this,” she said. “They can’t even really play much of a game.”

But these Austin High students are also not allowed to play or practice at Bellaire’s new facility.

Although five other HISD high schools are within five and a half miles of the new facility, none of them will be allowed to use it. A city ordinance states that only Bellaire students can play at the multi-million dollar facility.

The city of Bellaire is part of Houston ISD. Unlike the city of Houston, which does not have a comprehensive zoning ordinance, Bellaire High’s stadium required approval by the Bellaire City Council.

The original permit to build and operate a baseball facility was approved and approved by the city council in September 2017, approximately five years after the bond was approved. It was modified in 2020 to add a softball facility.

The ordinance has some limitations, including that it should apply “to the sole and exclusive use of Bellaire High School and not to any other facility without prior City Council approval.”

The ordinance even specifies the times each college and junior varsity baseball and softball team can use the facility with a 7:30 p.m. blackout on weekdays and a 5:30 p.m. blackout on Saturdays, unless , it is a tournament.

It also includes provisions related to parking and traffic flow, bans on artificial turf, field lighting and a PA system, and a requirement that almost all trees adjacent to the property must be preserved.

But as she walked the field at Austin High, where the ground trails aren’t visible and a baseball game is tough, Cruz said students across the district all deserve the same state-of-the-art facilities that Bellaire will soon have.

“I don’t know all the details of why that was decided. I know that going forward, if we do issue a bond in 2023 or in the future, we have to make sure we look at things fairly and make sure no students are left out,” she said. “There’s always a finite amount of dollars , but where do we make sure the students get what they deserve?”

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https://abc13.com/houston-isd-baseball-fields-equity-hisd-bellaire-field-in-sport/11939559/ 13 Investigations: Houston ISD’s Field of Dreams comes at a time when others are absent

Dais Johnston

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