Tomball ISD is in negotiations to purchase the former headquarters of BJ Services, an oilfield service company that filed for bankruptcy in July 2020, Chief Financial Officer Jim Ross said in an interview June 16.
The purchase would allow the district to integrate the existing facilities on the 70.45-acre site to meet the district’s growing needs, save on the cost of new construction and enhance TISD’s Career & Technical Education offerings, he said.
“As a fast-growth school district, Tomball ISD will remain focused on innovative ways to expand our opportunities and resources for our students. We take seriously the responsibility of stewardship over the community’s investment in the educational programs and facilities, which our children experience during the most formative years of their lives,” Superintendent Martha Salazar-Zamora said in a June 21 statement. “The opportunity for Tomball ISD to potentially purchase the former headquarters of BJ Services would be a game-changer for our growing district.”
In addition, Ross said the board of trustees will likely call a bond referendum in August for the Nov. 2 ballot, which may contain five ballot propositions including the cost of reimbursing the district for the possible purchase of the BJ Services campus, renovating the BJ Services headquarters, constructing four new schools and making other facility improvements.
According to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, the last day to call an election for the November ballot is Aug. 16.
The TISD board of trustees approved an agenda item June 15 authorizing Salazar-Zamora or Ross to “take the action necessary to facilitate and finalize the purchase of the BJ Services complex” at 11211 FM 2920, Tomball. The vote was unanimous; however, trustees Michael Pratt and Lee McLeod were absent.
“This is very exciting,” trustee Justin Unser said during the meeting.
Should the district continue pursuing the purchase of the property, Ross clarified the board’s vote allows him or Salazar-Zamora to close on the property without the board having to hold another meeting to approve the action, as the board of trustees will not meet in July. The property has not yet been purchased by the district.
According to Colliers International, the 70.45-acre corporate headquarters campus is on the market for $39.5 million.
Ross said he estimates the campus is worth around $250 million, and for about $75 million, the district could purchase and renovate the BJ Services campus to meet its needs.
“The facility, the complex, would solve a ton of problems that had been discussed but not really solved,” he said. “In the past, it’s not been cost efficient always to do renovations because of construction costs, [but] they’ve skyrocketed.”
The district’s facility study steering committee met in April and May to evaluate what items would be needed in an upcoming bond referendum, Ross said. The committee presented its recommendations June 14 to the board of trustees.
While the board of trustees has not determined what will be included in an upcoming bond referendum, Ross said needs identified by the committee total between $550 million and $560 million, which would be the largest bond referendum the district has called.
Ross estimates five ballot propositions could be called, including a general proposition totaling about $459 million for a high school, intermediate school and two elementary schools; the cost of the BJ Services campus and associated renovations; new buses; renovations at Tomball High School; security improvements; and a bus storage facility in the southern portion of the district.
Additional propositions could include: about $50 million for three multipurpose buildings—one for each high school that would span a football field and provide covered practice space for sports and fine arts teams; almost $28 million of various technology upgrades; an $8 million proposition including athletics improvements, such as additional seating at sports fields; and a $14.5 million proposition for a new natatorium.
Voters last approved TISD’s $275 million bond referendum in November 2017, which included the construction of a district stadium, Grand Lakes Junior High School, Grand Oaks Elementary School, a natatorium and an agricultural project center, among other items, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported.
Ross said a high school, intermediate school and elementary school complex would be built on 205 acres the district owns at Juergen and Mueschke roads. Despite the district’s ongoing expansion at Tomball Memorial High School to increase capacity by 500 students—a project included in the district’s 2017 referendum—Ross said TMHS is anticipated to reach capacity in three years.
A second elementary school—which could be built on 20 acres of vacant land at the BJ Services campus if purchased—would serve the growth of The Woodlands area, Ross said.
“The Woodlands is expanding behind Burroughs Park. The growth that’s there was not planned. Originally, that was planned as an [age-restricted] residential area,” Ross said. “The Howard Hughes Corp. has changed that to where it’s just single-family residences so we will have kids. So suddenly we have come to something that we didn’t expect, and there’s no property up there. But the location of BJ Services is just down the road.”
Should the district purchase the BJ Services campus, Ross said he foresees the campus becoming the new home of Tomball Star Academy, a mechanic shop for the district’s transportation department, an agriculture show barn to replace an outdated facility, and expanded office and CTE space for programs including welding and diesel mechanics.
Ross said the committee identified the need to accommodate more students at Tomball High School, which could be accomplished by relocating the district’s early college high school, Tomball Star Academy, as well as its Early Excellence Academy, to the BJ Services campus or other existing TISD facilities.
Ross said by relocating these programs, adequate space would be freed up at the high school for CTE and fine arts expansions as well as more classroom space, affording capacity through 2030.
“That became the discussion: if Star was not there, Tomball High School could last for years. Otherwise, in three years, we’re in trouble there,” Ross said.
However, Ross said building a new facility for Tomball Star Academy would cost between $30 million and $35 million alone.
In addition to cost savings, Salazar-Zamora said in a statement the purchase of the BJ Services campus would allow the district to expand its CTE programs. The district had previously planned to debut an Academy of Energy and International Business on-site at BJ Services in August 2020 before the oil services company declared bankruptcy.
“We were saddened when the original plans of our Academy of Energy and International Business at BJ Services didn’t come to fruition; however, we never backed down on our dream to continually provide more for all students from strong academics to CTE course offerings,” Salazar-Zamora said in a statement. “An educational complex like this would enable Tomball ISD to not only expand our CTE programs and provide students with the hands-on training and facilities that are representative of those used in industry but also allow for additional space we need to accommodate future schools as well as remove any barriers to innovation."