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Smith County 911 district plans for new building

The government agency that handles the technology behind 911 calls is planning to build a new headquarters to save money and improve the system’s security.

The Smith County 911 Communications District purchased a 3,000-square-foot building on Shelley Drive in Tyler, according to Bill Morales, the director of the district.

The district needs to double the size to 6,000 square feet. Fitzpatrick Architects has drawn up plans, and the district is seeking bids for construction.

“Originally, we sort of thought it was going to be about $1 million to $1.5 million,” Morales said. “But it appears that some of the construction costs nowadays have gotten a little high so we’re just kind of waiting to see what the bids come back as.”

The district was created in 1986 to administer the 911 call network, technology that routes calls to six different call centers in the county: the Smith County Sheriff’s Office, the Tyler Police Department, Tyler Junior College, UT Health East Texas, the city of Overton and the city of Lindale.

The staff has moved to a handful of different locations over the years and is currently in Woodbridge Office Park. Morales said it makes financial sense to stop paying rent and instead pay cash for a new building.

“Instead of paying $8,000 a month in rent, we don’t have any debt service on a building once we pay cash for it other than just what it costs to operate,” Morales said. “And also … mostly it’s just the ability to secure our equipment and to secure our operation.”

There are five full-time employees and one part-time employee who would work in the new office. There could be a handful of employees added over the next decade, Morales said, but some of the space is for guest offices and technology storage.

Morales said the plan is to place one of the servers in the new location. The headquarters would be built to withstand a major weather event so that 911 calls still would be routed in the event of a natural disaster.

There are two servers right now, he said. One is in a location that is not built to withstand such an event. That server would be moved into the new building when it is completed, he said.

“Those are the two servers that every single 911 call from landlines, cellphones, any device, go through one of our two servers, so we need to make sure those things are always up and running,” Morales said.

A prebid meeting will be held Monday, and sealed bids are due Oct. 15, according to a legal advertisement from the district.

TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield

Whitehouse ISD Education Foundation awards $100,000 in grants

A hallway of children screaming “robots!” A marching band showing up at an elementary school at 8 a.m. Dozens of giant checks and a parade of community members and administrators seeking to change students’ lives.

The Whitehouse ISD Education Foundation surprised teachers across the district with a record $100,000 in classroom grants on Friday.

The Surprise Patrol was led by Sir Prize, foundation President James Wansley, in a nod to the event being renamed this year. It was previously referred to as the Prize Patrol.

Whitehouse ISD Education Foundation President James Wansley (aka Sir Prize) announces grants that were awarded by the foundation’s Surprise Patrol at Brown Elementary School on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. The Surprise Patrol awarded $100,000 in grants to teachers and programs across all of the Whitehouse ISD campuses for programs and initiatives that are outside normal funding. (Sarah A. Miller/Tyler Morning Telegraph)

Ginger Cardwell, vice president of development, said the foundation set a goal to raise six figures this year, topping the $78,000 distributed last school year.

Cardwell said the grants help provide resources for the classroom above and beyond normal budgets. Many of the grants are for science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) based programs. Teachers submit proposals to the foundation, which are then graded by members.

Superintendent Christopher Moran said the grants give teachers the opportunity to offer students new experiences.

“The grants in the past few years have gone to things that enrich a teacher or classroom and expose students to things they’re not used to,” he said.

Sarah Miller / Sarah A. Miller/STAFF  

above, The Wildcat mascot (Maegan Schneider) and Whitehouse ISD Education Foundation volunteer Ashley Daugherty walk the halls of Brown Elementary School with the Surprise Patrol on Friday. The Surprise Patrol awarded $100,000 in grants to teachers and programs across all of the Whitehouse ISD campuses for programs and initiatives that are outside normal funding. Below, Whitehouse HS band students march through the halls with the Whitehouse ISD Education Foundation Surprise Patrol.

Moran said he was excited about many of the science-oriented grants this year, but particularly one that will go toward creating more outdoor learning opportunities.

This is the sixth year the foundation has awarded grants, and the first year it has partnered with Ingersoll Rand for STEM funding.

Students get excited as the Whitehouse ISD Education Foundation Surprise Patrol makes grant announcement stops at Brown Elementary School on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. The Surprise Patrol awarded $100,000 in grants to teachers and programs across all of the Whitehouse ISD campuses on Friday for programs and initiatives that are outside normal funding. (Sarah A. Miller/Tyler Morning Telegraph)

Twitter: @TMT_Cory

Documentary showcases power of music education to raise young people out of poverty

The power of music education was showcased this week at Liberty Hall in Tyler through a documentary featuring impoverished Venezuelan children rising up out of violent slums.

Although East Texas offers a completely different environment, some Tyler community leaders say the program, or one like it, could be duplicated here for the benefit of children.

For Hispanic Heritage Month, the Hispanic Professionals Association of Tyler and the East Texas Symphony Orchestra on Thursday screened “El Sistema,” a film about the program of the same name that takes children from poor communities and turns them into world-class musicians.

El Sistema is a music education program founded in Venezuela in 1975 by Venezuelan educator, musician and activist Jose Antonio Abreu. The organization has now become global, with El Sistema programs in the U.S, Canada and some European countries.

Octavio Tellez, of the Hispanic Professionals Association of Tyler and a board member of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra, organized the event to educate people about Latin America. He believes something similar to El Sistema could come to Tyler in the future.

“Of course, there’s an opportunity to develop it. We just need to get the people together and hopefully the screening will help that,” Tellez said.

After the screening, Fabiola Caravallo, an El Sistema alumna, said the experience in the program planted a seed in her that grew into a passion for music.

“I know that I can do something with music (because of El Sistema),” Caravallo said.

Now a Moore Middle School student in Tyler, she is a member of the school’s student orchestra.

Caravallo sang “Venezuela” a cappella, which is considered a second national anthem for the nation and is very special to its people, she said.

Tellez said there are many ways to get kids out of violence through music education, such as what has happened for Venezuelan kids in El Sistema. The children could have music rather than other things like guns, knives, video games or television, he said.

Felix Torres, East Texas Youth Orchestra artistic and executive director and conductor, said after the screening that a program like El Sistema is “without a question something we should be pursuing.”

He said people hear a lot about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, but not a lot about STEAM, which includes arts in the conversation. There’s something missing when testing and STEM-type courses are overly emphasized, he added.

“We want to raise more well-rounded adults to be a part of the community,” Torres said.

Vanessa Gardner, East Texas Symphony Orchestra executive director, said the documentary helps to show different models for music education and that students involved in music are more likely to succeed in life.

A program similar to El Sistema is a part of the conversation as a goal or idea, but nothing has officially been planned, Gardner said.

The screening and discussion were followed by a reception with Latin American foods prepared by chef Lance McWhorter of Culture ETX.

Hispanic Professionals Association of Tyler and the East Texas Symphony Orchestra are partnering for events in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which is celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 annually. The duo teamed up for a concert with music from Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Brazil and the U.S. on Sept. 14 at the R. Don Cowan Fine and Performing Arts Center.

TWITTER: @ZWellerman