Calallen Independent School District trustees recently voted 3-2 to move forward with remodeling 15 classrooms at Calallen High School into computer labs.

With state mandated STARS computerized testing set to be implemented this year for incoming freshman students, school administrators wanted to act quickly to set up the necessary number of computers to accommodate up to 400 students on campus and get them acclimated to using the computers prior to testing.

CISD Superintendent Arturo Almendarez said 2008 Series Bond funds that were first set aside for a technology building will now be used for setting up 15 computer labs in two separate areas of the high school. The cost of the project is estimated to be $575,000.

Originally $850,000 was set aside for the technology building construction project out of the $43.6 million bond. Bids for the building, however, came back at $2.2 million, more than double what was set aside for the project. At that point, the district shifted their focus from new construction to remodeling existing classroom space that could be used as both classrooms and computer labs. About $150,000 has already been spent on the technology building/technology lab project through the planning stages, Almendarez said.

Ten labs in one wing will use desktop computers wired into a central server, while the other five classrooms will utilize netbooks connected wirelessly into the server.

Board member Chad Burkhart questioned why the district did not consider cabling all the computers. District technology director Bryan Brown said the CHS teachers requested that the system have more mobility.

Almendarez added that the classrooms in one wing already had lower set ceilings, which facilitated classroom cabling. The rooms in the other wing have higher ceilings, he said, which would require additional remodeling costs to make them cable capable.

“You remodel a kitchen or a bathroom. You don’t remodel a classroom,” Trustee Brent Burkhart said. “This building is nearly 40 years old. It’s like trying to put leather seats in a 1984 station wagon.”

The elder Burkhart acknowledged that additional lab space was needed, but said he was uncomfortable voting at this time in favor of the project since he missed what was reviewed during the June board meeting on the issue, and he felt the entire board should be included in the vote.

Board members Jim Callis and Paul Peeler were absent from the July 8 special meeting.

Burkhart also expressed disbelief that the remaining $125,000 left for the project would be enough to construct two classrooms additions to the 400 wing, one for more lab space and the other for a secure room to hold testing material. That proposal was pitched by Brown and Almendarez during their presentation to the board, and would be in addition to the 15 computer lab classrooms.

Almendarez stressed the immediate need to get the project off the ground. As it is at this point, the project would not be completed until Oct. 1, Almendarez said. The need for more computerized testing will only increase, he said, as both freshman and sophomore students will be required to take the STARS exam on computer the following year, with the addition of junior level students taking the exam within two years.

“This project will give us 15 additional computer labs, capable of being used by 25 students in each at one time,” Almendarez said.

In the end, Board President Butch Roecker, Jason Floyd and Chad Wilfong voted to proceed with the project, with the Burkharts voting against.