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May 3, 2001

Blaze in field keeps firemen busy overnight

Staff Writer

PECOS, May 3, 2001 - A brush fire in a field on the west side of town kept Pecos Volunteer Firefighters busy early this morning.

Firemen received a call shortly after midnight that there was an unattended fire in an open field, and two fire units were dispatched to the location, near the drainage canal west of Texas Street.

The fire broke out in one of two piles of brush, weeds and tree branches that had been piled in the middle of the field. Firefighters were out at the scene until 4 a.m. and had to use the Town of Pecos City front-end loader to cover the extinguished fire with dirt.

"They're cleaning the area out there and they just piled a lot of brush and mesquite," said second assistant chief Arturo Granado.

He said someone had set the pile of debris on fire and had left it burning. However, winds at the time out of the east blew the smoke from the fire away from homes located on the north and south sides of the field.

"We don't have very many details at this time, except that someone apparently set it on fire and left," he said. "We put the dirt on top of it to make sure it wouldn't ignite again," he said.

Balmorhea officials defend $1.6 million gym bond issue

Staff Writer

PECOS, May 3, 2001 - Balmorhea Independent School District is hoping that voters will pass a $1.6 million bond issue in Saturday's local election that would allow the school district to receive funds from the state for use in renovation of the school's gym.

Balmorhea Superintendent Elizabeth Saenz said that the State's Office of Civil Rights cited the school district in September of 2000 for the second time for not being in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"The problem with our existing gym it that it's not handicapped accessible," she said.

Balmorhea School Board Trustee Paul Matta said that the school has been cited for the same problems in the past.

"At least for the last three years we've been cited," he said.

Matta said that there is a possibility of the school district losing funding due to the citations if those problems are not fixed.

"We might lose federal funding," he said.

Saenz said that no matter if the community passes the bond issue or not, the school would still have to make the renovations.

Balmorhea ISD faces requirements to make renovations to the school's gym, stage and locker areas to become in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act no matter if the bond issue passes or not.

Passing the bond issue would allow the school district to receive state funding for 86 percent of the total amount, requiring the district to raise only $14,000 per year for the length of the bond, according to Saenz.

"Basically they give you money to make these renovations to your school," Matta said.

Matta said that the bond would be for $100,000 per year for approximately 20 years and having the state pay for 86 percent of that money is a good thing for the school.

"I don't think you want to turn down something like that," he said.

The $86,000 per year would come from the Instructional Facility Allotment (IFA) program that helps poorer school districts make necessary renovations for instructional facilities only.

Saenz said that means that they would not be able to use the money for such things as school buses or new administrative offices because they would not be for instructional use.

"With this program there are some things you can build and some you can't build," she said.

With that in mind, Saenz said that the school district is looking into renovating the gym and stage area of the gym, the locker rooms as well as adding two new computer labs.

Matta said that the current computer labs, which are converted classrooms, have a lot of problems with spacing and wiring.

"We want to make those areas better for the students," he said.

Saenz said that building new computer labs that are designed to be computer labs would benefit the students and the school district.

The current stage on the east side of the gym was built in 1985 as part of a new addition that was needed after the east side of the old Balmorhea ISD building was destroyed by fire. A new gym floor was also put down, but other facilities in the gym were left unchanged after the reconstruction.

It is still uncertain at this time to whether or not the school would use the money for renovations or if a brand new gym would have to be constructed, according to Matta.

He said that they are waiting for the architect's report on whether or not the school should build a new gym or would be able to renovate it as well as adding the new computer labs.

"A lot of people feel that maybe we're putting priority on athletics over academics," Matta said.

Matta said that that is not the case; the school is only trying to fix what needs to be fixed according to the citations.

Saenz said that the school is trying to move on this bond issue soon because this may be the last year that the program exists.

She said that the state has been promising money to many school districts for many years and is unable to afford that kind of commitment anymore.

"They can't afford to do this," she said.

Matta said that is why the school board is looking for the community's support in this weekend's election.

"This could be our last opportunity to get that kind of money," he said.

Many people have expressed disapproval to the bond issue because it would cause taxes to rise from seven to eight cents.

Saenz said that that eight-cent increase would not cause the taxpayers much more money per year and the future cost will be much more if the school is unable to receive the state funding.

She said that they looked at the top ten taxpayers in the area and the eight-cent increase wouldn't cost them more than $50 per year and approximately 99 cents per month.

If the school were to move ahead with this project without receiving the state funding the taxes to cover the cost would increase to approximately 48 cents, according to Saenz.

Saenz said that many people have supported the bond issue because they realize it would save the city money by receiving funding from the state and it would benefit the students.

"I feel like this is something our children deserve," she said.

Matta said that this program that the school hopes to apply for is good for the school and students.

"That money's there, let's take advantage of it," he said. "It's a good deal. It's for the kids."

If voters approve the bond issue this weekend, the school board and Saenz will wait for the architect to finish a masterplan that would determine when either the construction or renovations would begin, according to Saenz.

Records refute Ojinaga murder witness' claim

PECOS, May 3, 2001 - A reported eyewitness to the murder of an Ojinaga journalist in February was in jail at the time of the shooting, the Big Bend Sentinel reported in today's editions.

The paper said Ojinaga Police Chief Rene Cardona Bejarano made the announcement of Wednesday, three days after Presidio businessman Jesus Herrera was arrested and charged with the murder of Jose Luis Ortega.

During a court hearing on Wednesday, Cardona and Ojinaga Mayor Victor Sotelo produced documents that showed the prosecution eyewitness Guadalupe "La Tecata" Valenzuela Lozano was released from the city jail on Feb. 20. She had identified Herrera as the killer of Ortega, who was shot twice in the head several blocks from his home in Ojinaga on the night of Feb. 19.

"The judge still has to accept and validate what we have presented," Cardona said. Defense attorney Jose Bolivar Bolivar has asked the judge to dismiss the charge against Herrera, who owns the H&H Supermarket in Presidio with his father, while charging Valenzuela with perjury.

Herrera's arrest sparked a one-hour protest on Tuesday that blocked the U.S. 67 International Bridge between Presidio on Ojinaga.


PECOS, May 3, 2001 - High Wednesday 98. Low this morning 61. Forecast for tonight: Mostly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of showers or thunderstorms. Low in the upper 50s.South wind 10 to 20 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of showers or thunderstorms. High in the mid 80s.South wind 10 to 20 mph. Friday night: Partly cloudy. Low in the mid 50s. Saturday and Sunday: Partly cloudy. Lows in the mid 50s to near 60. Highs in the mid to upper 80s.

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