“Aesthetics has nothing to do with this:” Why Paul Welch says Chapel Hill needs to pass its bond election May 6

Paul Welch may feel like celebrating come Saturday, May 6 — Election Day for residents to vote for three Chapel Hill bond proposals to improve and add to the school district’s existing structures.

Three propositions, totaling $113, are on the ballot. Welch is hopeful the propositions will pass and bring more space, safety and upgrades to Chapel Hill students, staff and residents.

📷 photos courtesy of Paul Welch.

A recent retiree from an engineering construction company, Welch has called Chapel Hill home for almost four decades. Additionally, many of Welch’s four children and 11 grandchildren graduated from or currently attend Chapel Hill schools. 

Last year, he helped organize the group the Bulldog Strong Pack to pass a $126 million bond that failed by just 41 votes. This year, Welch said a lower proposed bond price tag and community input increases the bond’s chances of success.

Welch said a facilities planning committee — formed last year and comprised of parents of students, residents and business leaders — laid the groundwork for the bond and helped prioritize the propositions.

At the top of the committee’s list are facilities, including a new career and technology center; a new seventh and eighth grade junior high school building; and six added classrooms to Wise and Jackson elementary schools.

Welch said the changes are needed. “Structures have lives. You can only paint something so many times, and you can only patch something so many times.”

According to Welch, the school building proposals are solely focused on function. “Aesthetics has nothing to do with this. Everything we’re doing is functional. The leadership is trying not to spend money unnecessarily. Aesthetics is not what we need; function is what we need,” Welch said.

A rendering of a new proposed Career and Technology Center, along with a new junior high and additional elementary school classrooms, is part of the bond’s Proposition A.

Welch said the school’s current infrastructure stymies academics and training. 

“Our CTE building does not have enough electricity to run the vocational education. There are times that they’ll plug in a hair dryer in the cosmetology section, and it’ll blow all the breakers. 

“And in welding, they do not have enough electrical capacity to add any more welders. Consequently, we’re actually turning people away from the welding program. 

“Our culinary program has one stove because we can’t hook it up. That’s flat out embarrassing,” he said.

In addition to electrical capacity, the current facilities pose safety concerns.

“There’s about a 30-yard walk outside between the high school and the CTE building. Almost 500 students make that trek every 45 minutes, either going or coming to class. If you had — God forbid — a shooter situation, it could actually be done from off campus,” Welch said.

Chapel Hill students walk from the main campus to the CTE building throughout the school day.

Similarly, the Jackson and Wise elementary campuses use portable buildings. In addition to posing a security threat, Welch noted weather hazards from unconnected buildings.

“If it’s pouring down rain, the students are tromping through the water.”

Victoria Scott speaks about the changes she would like to see at Chapel Hill. 📷 Layton Ekwuruke 

Even if safety and infrastructure weren’t concerns, Chapel Hill’s growth means they are running out of space. The Tyler Economic Development Council anticipates 40,000 new jobs in the next 10 years. And last year, Chapel Hill estimated an 8% increase in population. Instead, they saw 16% growth. 

“We’ve simply gotta have more room,” said Welch.

A rendering of a new proposed junior high at East Fifth Street and Highway 64.

According to Welch, the proposed new junior high would provide needed space and convey to newcomers the Chapel Hill’s investment in public education and the future of their community.

The prospective junior high location is at East Fifth Street, just outside Loop 323 on Highway 64. “That’s the fastest-growing area of the Chapel Hill School District,” said Welch. 

Chapel Hill’s junior high currently serves 500 students, with projections to serve 800 in the next five to six years.

Chapel Hill student Lemuel Stinson tells his hopes for the bond to pass. 📷 Layton Ekwuruke

Welch said the new junior high would sit on 37 acres, instead of the current school’s five acres. The move would also improve the traffic congestion caused by the current close proximity of the elementary, junior and high school campuses.

Ultimately, Welch believes the new proposals are a matter of honoring his community. “We owe it to the students and our teachers,” he said.

On May 6, voters may cast their ballots at the following locations:

  • Bullard Southern Baptist Church: 716 N. Houston Street, Bullard, TX 75757
  • Chapel Hill Fire Department: 13801 CR 220, Tyler, TX 75707
  • The HUB, 304 E. Ferguson Street, Tyler, TX 75702
  • Lindale Masonic Lodge: 200 W. Margaret Street, Lindale, TX 75771
  • New Harmony Baptist Church: 10251 FM 724, Tyler, TX 75704
  • Noonday Community Center: 16662 CR 196, Tyler, TX 75703
  • St. Violet Baptist Church: 14129 FM 2767, Tyler, TX 75708
  • Three Lakes Middle: 2445 Three Lakes Parkway, Tyler, TX 75703
  • Victor Kay Gymnasium: 605 Wildcat Drive, Winona, TX 75792

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Jane Neal is the executive director of The Tyler Loop and storytelling director of Out of the Loop: True Stories about Tyler and East Texas. In addition to the Loop, she works at the Literacy Council of Tyler and attends Sam Houston State University remotely, where she studies sociology. Jane is a certified interfaith spiritual guide. She is a member of Leadership Tyler Class 33 and a former teacher of French at Robert E. Lee High School, where she ran a storytelling program called Senior Stories. Jane and her husband Don have four children.