Construction projects arise across county; new faces pop up in political scene
The growth in 2013 in Denton County has led to a veritable building boom for 2014.
Construction is underway for a new jail, new fire stations, new restaurants, a new university dormitory and a new school, and plans are in the works to ask voters for additional funds to continue improving the local infrastructure. Roadwork, moreover, is expected to kick into high gear this year.
Business construction is also in the works for the new year, from local shopping centers to manufacturing expansion.
And then there’s always politics. This will be a hot political year across the state and nation, and a crowded slate of local candidates will bring those elections closer to home for the primary election in March and the general election in November. The May elections, meanwhile, are expected to bring some new faces to several city halls in the area.
Jail construction winds up
The new $30 million Denton County Jail expansion is expected to be open for business by fall.
The 87,000-square-foot jail expansion broke ground last January and will include 384 beds for dormitory, double-occupancy cells and single-occupancy cells. Medical and dental facilities will also be on site.
The new jail, expected to open in late August 2014, is the first phase of an ongoing expansion project. In a 2008 bond election, voters approved $22.5 million to cover construction costs. The total balance last reported by county officials was estimated at more than $30 million. The additional monies needed, county officials said in recent interviews, will come from tax notes and the county infrastructure program.
With the expansion, the county will be able to house more than 1,400 inmates — about 200 more than currently allowed, according to Sheriff William Travis. An additional 50 employees are expected to be hired.
Fire, law enforcement training center
The joint training center with the Denton Fire Department and the Denton County Sheriff’s Office is expected to open in early 2014.
The facility, adjacent to the Denton police station on Hickory Street, will utilize more than 26,000 square feet in a 40,000-square-foot building. The renovations will include a fitness room, a defensive tactics room, four classrooms that can be opened up to form two larger rooms and a “use of force” room.
The training facility should be equipped and ready for use no later than February, officials said. Final touches are already in progress.
New fire stations
New fire stations are in the works.
The groundbreaking for the Denton Fire Department’s Fire Station No. 2 on East McKinney Street is expected to begin in the summer, with the new station just to the north of the current station.
The department is now in the design phase, and the construction will not impact current operations, said spokesman Kenneth Hedges.
And in Krum, construction of a new fire station finally won voter approval in November after two attempts. Construction is expected to begin this year.
The proposition for the fire station passed 257 to 169. A second proposition for a public works facility passed 239 to 185.
School construction, renovations underway
The Denton school district is expected to finish construction — and the naming — of Elementary School No. 22 in the Lantana area in time for the start of the 2014-15 school year.
And officials with Selwyn College Preparatory School said they are looking to raise money in 2014 for the construction of a classroom building and kitchen and the restoration of its dining hall and science building that were damaged by a fire in 2012. Officials also want to create a Monarch butterfly garden and environmental habitat that will be used as a “hands-on” science lab.
In Sanger, the school district will look to replace the roof and air-conditioning and heating system at Chisholm Trail Elementary. The renovations were among more than $1 million in needs identified by school administrators.
Campus infrastructure moving forward
The University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University are expected to become more strapped for space this year as enrollment increases, and new construction projects have been funded for living and classroom space.
In 2013, both universities requested millions of dollars from the state to invest in campus infrastructure, but the legislature did not reach a decision on the tuition revenue bonds bill that would finance the plans. UNT, however, will move forward with building a new dormitory this year, but no projects to accommodate the growth have been made at TWU.
City bond election may be on November ballot
If all that construction wasn’t enough, the city of Denton is expected to go to voters in November with an ambitious capital improvement program that will overhaul fire stations, rebuild city streets and address drainage problems that have emerged since the 2007 flood and other projects.
The City Council has appointed about 50 residents to a committee that will recommend what projects get put in front of voters in what could be one of the largest bond elections in the city’s history.
March primary election has packed slates
It’s going to be a busy year in politics in Denton County. The March primary election will bring 48 Republican candidates and 10 contested races, with additional contested races in the November general election.
Two of Denton County’s top Republicans — County Judge Mary Horn and District Attorney Paul Johnson — are facing challengers in the Republican primary in the spring.
Horn, who has run for re-election unopposed since 2006, is facing two GOP challengers — Corinth Mayor Paul Ruggiere and Highland Village attorney Sherman Swartz. Johnson is facing Lantana attorney Karen Alexander and Denton attorney Hank Paine.
Several other incumbents are facing challengers, and three races are wide open after the incumbents decided not to seek re-election. Six Democrats filed to run in the November general election but are not facing primary challengers.
The primary election is March 4. Early voting starts Feb. 18.
May city election already stirring
The Denton City Council will see some new faces in May.
Mayor Mark Burroughs and Mayor Pro Tem Pete Kamp cannot run again because of term limits. Council member James King said he will not run again.
Former council member Chris Watts has appointed a campaign treasurer to run for mayor. He is expected to run against Jean Schaake, a former longtime member of the Denton school board and head of the city’s planning and zoning commission. Schaake has said she plans to run, but has not yet made a formal announcement.
Filing begins Jan. 29 for the May election.
K-9 corps to return
The Denton County Sheriff’s Office is looking to bring back its K-9 unit, and two new dogs and handlers are undergoing training.
Chico, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois, was shot and killed in December 2012 after high winds blew open the gate to his handler’s yard. A nearby property owner in Collin County shot the dog because he believed Chico was a threat to his chickens.
Chico had served as a deputy with the sheriff’s office since 2009 to detect narcotics. During a recent interview, Sheriff William Travis said it’s time for the office to move forward and restore the K-9 unit.
Molestation case could be resolved
A Corinth pastor accused of improper contact with a child could get his day in court this year.
The Rev. Jeffrey Dale Williams, the lead pastor of the Church of Corinth, was arrested and charged with attempted sexual performance of a child, a third-degree felony. He is accused of trying to persuade the child to take off her clothes, according to sworn statements by police.
He was placed on leave after the arrest, and the case against him is pending.
Lake Ralph Hall construction
Construction is expected to begin this year on the new Lake Ralph Hall, which eventually is expected to provide water for most of North Texas.
Denton County officials worked to help hammer out an agreement with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Upper Trinity Water District for the lake, which will be built in Fannin County. It is expected to supply 30 million to 45 million gallons of water a day for the region.
“It will be a future water resource for all of North Texas and in particular Denton County,” County Judge Mary Horn said.
The lake is expected to be completed by 2025.
The long awaited expansion of Interstate 35E will be major focus of the county in 2014 and years to come.
Following the ceremonial groundbreaking in late 2013 and some light gutter and utility work, construction is expected to really take off this year.
The 28.2-mile expansion will add general-purpose lanes, managed toll lanes and frontage road improvements from Interstate 635 in Dallas County to U.S. Highway 380 in Denton County.
The existing lanes of the highway will remain free. Phase 1 of the project will add an additional free lane each way from State Highway 121 to U.S. 380, as well as two reversible managed lanes from I-635 to an area around Swisher and Turbeville roads. Phase 1 also includes the expansion of the Lewisville Lake Bridge.
Funding for the project will be a joint effort between the Texas Department of Transportation, the Regional Transportation Council and multiple regional partners.
County Commissioner Andy Eads said some of the key components for the first phase will be the reconstruction of I-35E over FM407 in the Lewisville-Highland Village area. FM407 will go underneath the reconstructed interstate, Eads said.
Other road construction projects in the area will include the beginning of construction for FM156 in Justin that will start in the fall of 2014 and construction of FM1171 in Flower Mound from Shiloh Road to I-35W that will start in the spring.
Wrangling with new graduation requirements
Local public schools will be focused on implementing new graduation requirements mandated by the state as they continue to deal with student population growth.
Officials say that the implementation of Texas House Bill 5 will be a major focus for 2014 as districts work to adjust their curricula to whatever new demands the state finally imposes.
Area districts are awaiting the state Board of Education’s decision so that they may prepare for implementation of the requirements in the fall. The state board is expected to consider graduation requirements at its meeting in January.
Area school districts deal with local issues
Local school districts also have their own issues to deal with this year.
In Pilot Point, officials say they intend to implement “best practices” and improve the district’s English as a Second Language/bilingual programs. They also are working to focus on technology and expanding the district’s technical education program.
In Krum, where student enrollment has been growing about 6 percent, officials are planning to establish the Krum ISD Education Foundation this year, with a kick-off event tentatively set for next fall.
Lake Dallas school officials say they will work this year to win restoration of state funding to Texas school districts that was slashed in 2011. Lake Dallas serves four communities — Lake Dallas, Corinth, Shady Shores and Hickory Creek.
Expecting movement on ‘standstill’
A standstill agreement between the city of Denton and EagleRidge Energy expires this month in January.
EagleRidge is a year into a program of redrilling older gas wells in the city that has seen rigs 250 feet from homes and other protected uses. Residents have fought the measure, and the city filed suit at one point but later dropped the legal action.
The city is now negotiating. The standstill has temporarily halted future drilling but allows EagleRidge to continue obtaining fire inspection permits for 12 wells as negotiations continue.
EagleRidge contends the rights to develop the sites were vested under the original permits.
Bartonville water tower issue could be resolved
Officials and residents in Bartonville are hoping that 2014 will lead to a resolution of a three-year dispute over the construction of a water tower in city limits.
Town of Bartonville officials said the water supply corporation built the water tower without the proper approval from the town, and they filed for an injunction to halt construction. Since then, the water supply corporation has been in legal battles with the town.
Mayor Ron Robertson and Mayor Pro Tem James Farrell resigned from their posts in November, saying that they believe the council is “heading in the wrong direction.”
In May, the town will elect a new mayor to replace Robertson.
New university leadership moves in
Neal Smatresk will begin his term as the 16th president of the University of North Texas on Feb. 3, after he leaves his post as president of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
The Board of Regents tapped Smatresk to fill the job being vacated by outgoing President Lane Rawlins. Smatresk said he shares the goals of UNT leaders to help build the university into a top-tier research institution.
Also in 2014, the successor for outgoing Texas Woman’s University President and Chancellor Ann Stuart will be announced. The search committee is currently looking at candidates and is expected to make a decision by the end of the spring 2014 semester.
Rayzor Ranch Town Center expected to kick off
Construction is expected to begin on the Rayzor Ranch Town Center in 2014, which will be across the street from Rayzor Ranch Marketplace.
The Town Center is planned to be a 600,000-square-foot, open-air center with shopping, dining and entertainment.
So far, Dillard’s is the only retailer that is publicly on board to join the project and a time line has not been released.
New dining options on the menu
Some new dining options are in the works for the Denton area.
In February, the first Denton location of the Egg and I is set to open in the Denton Crossing shopping center, one of several expected new restaurants.
The Golden Triangle Mall also expects to add more options to the newly opened food court, which currently houses Italia Express, Smoothies Paradise and Tobu Teriyaki.
And an announcement is expected in the coming weeks on a new restaurant to replace the recently closed Burguesa Burger just off the Square.
Manufacturing builds on growth
Local manufacturing plants are poised for expansion and growth this year, following national growth trends that has seen a recovery in the industry.
Mayday Manufacturing is in the process of transferring its headquarters within Denton to a larger building to accommodate its rapid growth, and Edsco Fasteners has bought additional equipment for production increases in 2014.
Additional manufacturing companies might also be moving into the Denton area, officials have indicated.
Staff writers Jenna Duncan, Megan Gray, John D. Harden, Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, Bj Lewis and Britney Tabor contributed to this report.