Coppell Chronicle Vol. 1, No. 14
New Scoreboards Touted as Win-Win • Virtual School Year Ends on Perfect Note • Vari to Provide Ample Parking • Elected Officials Welcome Your Emails
New Scoreboards Touted as Win-Win
Fancy new scoreboards are coming to Coppell High School’s football stadium and basketball arena, at no cost to Coppell ISD. In fact, the district stands to make money on the deal.
As part of its larger effort to find new revenue streams, CISD has signed a five-year contract with a company called 1 Vision Media. The firm will install the fully digital scoreboards, provide programming on the scoreboards during games and other events, and sell advertising that will appear on the scoreboards.
In recent years, CISD has made $74,000 annually by selling such ads itself. The contract with 1 Vision guarantees the district will get 130 percent of that amount — or $96,000 — each year. Any proceeds beyond the $96,000 will be kept by 1 Vision.
Angela Brown, the district’s executive director of communications and community engagement, told the Board of Trustees on Monday that CISD “beta tested” its relationship with 1 Vision throughout the recently completed school year before signing on the dotted line. The staff of 1 Vision helped students from KCBY, the student-run television station, create content for home football games in 2020.
“We had a great experience,” Brown said. “It was fantastic. If you attended the games, we were able to have fantastic content, and it was very successful. That’s why we felt confident that we could move forward.”
Will Molander, 1 Vision’s director of school accounts, told the trustees that working with KCBY students was “nothing short of a blessing.” He said his firm will help them produce human interest stories on students who aren’t necessarily associated with the football or basketball programs. Those stories would play on the scoreboards during games.
“Not only will we continue to have students involved, we’ll be able to expand it through this partnership,” Brown added.
That student involvement was just one aspect of the deal that pleased the majority of the trustees, as well as Superintendent Brad Hunt. Another was the new scoreboards’ fully digital displays, as illustrated below:
Brown said the scoreboard at Buddy Echols Field, which is 11 years old, started malfunctioning toward the end of the 2019 football season. During the most recent spring football game, it wouldn’t come on at all. As illustrated below, it features static advertisements on its edges. Whenever a sponsorship deal ended, Hunt said, the district would have to rent a cherry picker so the old signage could be removed and replaced.
Trustee Tracy Fisher highlighted another benefit of the deal: It takes ad sales and everything associated with that off the district staff’s plate. Hunt thanked her for pointing that out.
“We’re all great, well-informed people, but our role is not bill collector,” Hunt said. “That’s really not our area of expertise.”
The only trustee who wasn’t jazzed by the 1 Vision deal was Neena Biswas, who seemed concerned that the contract had been signed without the trustees’ approval. Board President Nichole Bentley reminded her that operational matters are outside the trustees’ purview.
“We challenged your department, and the staff, to raise revenue that is not subject to recapture,” Bentley told Brown, before turning to Biswas. “So this doesn’t involve taxpayer dollars. It’s actually a way for us to generate revenue for the district that the state cannot reclaim.”
Biswas asked if 1 Vision has any competitors. Molander told her the partnership between his firm and Coppell ISD is the first of its kind. Before connecting with 1 Vision, Brown and Athletic Director Kit Pehl met with other companies that simply sell scoreboards. Brown said the bids ranged from $700,00 to $900,000.
Biswas was also concerned about questionable advertising appearing on the scoreboards. Mark Winneker — 1 Vision’s chief revenue officer, who is the father of two Coppell High School graduates — tried to lay those fears to rest.
“There won’t be any advertising on this board that hasn’t been approved by the district,” Winneker said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Trustee David Caviness asked what will happen to the new scoreboards if either party declines to extend the contract after five years. Brown said the scoreboards will be CISD’s to keep.
P.S. All of the discussion of the 1 Vision deal obscured another positive note from Brown’s presentation to the trustees. As I told you in the May 2 edition of the Coppell Chronicle, CISD has a goal of enrolling 848 kindergartners this fall. Brown said the district’s “I ♥ CISD” marketing campaign, which includes YouTube and Facebook advertising, has led to 610 kiddos enrolling so far.
Virtual School Year Ends on Perfect Note
On Tuesday morning, my son’s middle school invited students’ families to watch a year-end awards ceremony via Zoom. Unfortunately, all viewers weren’t automatically muted.
One set of grandparents had a running commentary going throughout the festivities. Whenever they spoke to each other, they appeared on the screen instead of the ceremony. They ignored all of the “mute yourself” pleas from the chat.
Not to be outdone, another kid’s mom started making business-related phone calls over the stream. For example, we all got to hear her leave a “happy birthday” voicemail for a client. Other viewers unmuted themselves so they could yell at her, but she apparently had the Zoom volume turned down.
Meanwhile, yours truly emailed the school’s front office to inform them of the chaos, and I’m sure mine wasn’t the only such email. Shortly thereafter, the host stopped the Zoom so she could restart it with everyone muted.
All in all, it was the perfect way to put a bow on Coppell ISD’s virtual learning experiment. As I told you in last week’s Coppell Chronicle, CISD does not plan to offer any virtual learning for the 2021-22 school year. The main reason for that decision was the minimal interest from the community; only 2 percent of CISD students applied to attend the proposed Virtual Academy. Superintendent Brad Hunt shared the following statistics during Monday’s Board of Trustees meeting:
(To qualify for CISD’s proposed Virtual Academy, a family would have to designate a parent or another adult in the household as a “learning coach,” who would be responsible for “providing support for instruction and ensuring engagement in the learning process” — so, basically, an adult with few other responsibilities.)
The other reason for CISD’s decision, which was announced on May 18, was the lack of a funding commitment from the state. Well, this past Wednesday, the Texas Senate approved a bill that would allow districts to operate virtual schools.
That was too little, too late for CISD, but it was good news for Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, which overlaps with portions of Coppell and Valley Ranch. The CFBISD Virtual Academy will launch in the fall, that district announced on May 17. The application deadline was two days ago, but interested parents have nothing to lose by trying to finagle an extension. Here’s a tip: Promise to proactively mute yourself during any Zoom ceremonies.
Vari to Provide Ample Parking
Here’s a fact that you’ve probably never thought about before, but it will seem pretty obvious once you do: There are no parking garages in Coppell … for now.
The city’s first parking garage will be part of the new headquarters for Vari. The company formerly known as VariDesk plans to construct a three-story office building (and two-story garage) at Freeport Parkway and State Highway 121. Here’s what it’s supposed to look like:
“The architecture of the building is really what was envisioned for the 121 corridor and will provide an attractive gateway into Coppell from Freeport Parkway,” city planner Matt Steer told the Coppell Planning and Zoning Commission this month.
On May 20, the commission held a public hearing regarding various variances in Vari’s plans, only one of which involves parking. The firm wants its head-to-head parking spaces to be 18 feet deep, but Coppell typically requires such spaces to be 19 feet deep. Steer said the city staff had no problem with Vari’s request after discovering that 18 feet is the minimum in all four neighboring suburbs: Carrollton, Grapevine, Irving, and Lewisville.
Vari has gotten into the landlord business via office buildings branded VariSpace. It has two such properties, in Southlake and Las Colinas, and this Coppell property will be the third. Steer said Vari wants to occupy a third of the building’s 185,700 square feet and lease the remainder.
Coppell requires one parking space per 300 square feet of building, which translates to 619 spaces for this project. But Vari is proposing to have 728 spaces, and that’s before a potential third level may be added to the garage down the line. (Steer said that third level would be subject to another round of Coppell’s permitting process.)
Jeff Lamb, Vari’s president and chief operating officer, said his firm wants to offer an abundance of parking to keep up with its competition. He said office buildings in Cypress Waters offer six parking spaces per 1,000 square feet, but VariSpace Southlake has eight spaces per 1,000 square feet.
“That’s very important in attracting tenants,” he told the commission. “None of the tenants that we’ve signed have requested anything less than [five parking spaces per 1,000 square feet].”
If my math is correct, VariSpace Coppell will have almost four spaces per 1,000 square feet. Lamb predicted the project’s main competition will be a new office building near Bass Pro Shops in Grapevine that he said offers only three spaces per 1,000 square feet.
Lamb started his remarks by thanking the commissioners for their volunteer work.
“What you guys do is extremely important,” said Lamb, a 30-year resident of Coppell who said his three daughters and four grandchildren all live in the city. “The decisions you make, to make this a place where kids want to move back home to, is awesome.”
After that sweet talk, the commission unanimously decided to approve all of Vari’s very ambitious plans.
Elected Officials Welcome Your Emails
Coppell City Council meetings always have a portion labeled “citizens’ appearance.” Coppell ISD Board of Trustees meetings have a similar portion labeled “open forum.” Before the pandemic, if you wanted to participate in these proceedings, you had to show up in person. But with COVID restrictions in place, the powers that be were willing to hear from you via Zoom or via an email that would be read aloud by a staffer.
Now that COVID restrictions have been lifted, and our elected officials are meeting with each other fully face-to-face again, the council and the board each took time last week to discuss whether they would once again require their constituents to show up in person to be heard. Short answer: For now, they won’t.
The school board decided Monday that they would continue to accept “open forum” comments via email. Here’s a sampling of their thoughts on the matter:
David Caviness: “We need to make ourselves as accessible as possible.”
Manish Sethi: “I would like to hear from those parents or community members who cannot personally show up over here.”
Leigh Walker: “We shouldn’t erect obstacles to engagement. We should bulldoze obstacles to engagement.”
The outlier in that discussion was Tracy Fisher, who touted the civics lesson that in-person engagement can provide to children who accompany their parents to “open forum” sessions, not to mention the children who participate in such sessions themselves.
Fisher, who makes a habit of visiting Austin so she can speak to legislators, also pointed out that you have to be physically present to do that, no matter how much travel that requires. Additionally, Fisher said anybody can email the trustees without having that email read aloud during a meeting.
“We read our emails,” Fisher said. “I don’t want to read email, and then also have them read to me in a board meeting. I don’t know; I just don’t think that is a very good use of our time.”
Speaking of time, Walker asked the board to discuss how much time members of the public get to speak during “open forum.” The current limit is three minutes, but she said it was five minutes when she joined the board in 2016.
“If someone makes the choice to come and present in front of the board, I would like for them to say everything that they want to say,” Walker said, “and I think four minutes accomplishes that.”
The only one of her colleagues who was sympathetic to her concerns was Caviness. The others were fine with keeping the cap at three minutes, especially after Angela Brown, the district’s executive director of communications and community engagement, reminded them of the state laws that limit what school districts can and cannot do.
Brown told the board that they cannot put a cumulative time limit on the “open forum” portion of a meeting, and they also cannot limit the number of speakers on one topic. Fisher, who joined the board in 2012, recalled when the board could cap the number of speakers on a particular topic: “They’ve had to be pretty creative in the past to come up with different reasons to talk about an issue.”
Walker and Caviness said people who aren’t accustomed to public speaking may struggle to articulate their thoughts in three minutes, but trustee Anthony Hill said, “Many times, the persons that come to speak have sent us emails already. So they’re able to express their full thoughts through those emails.”
The board didn’t discuss “open forum” appearances via Zoom, which were allowed during the early part of the pandemic, but Brown confirmed for me that Zoom is off the table.
Meanwhile, the Coppell City Council decided Tuesday that their “citizens’ appearance” sessions would continue to accommodate comments made via both email and Zoom.
“We want citizen participation, in whatever form it comes,” Mayor Pro Tem Mark Hill said.
The council caps the “citizens’ appearance” portion of their meetings at 20 minutes, and each speaker gets no more than two minutes. Regarding emails, Mayor Wes Mays asked, “What do we do if we receive a dissertation in writing?” Hill said the city secretary would read as much of the email as she could in two minutes, but I liked council member Cliff Long’s answer better:
“If we determine that it’s long, then you can give them a choice: Do they want the first half read or the bottom half read?” Long said. “And usually it’s the bottom half, because that’s where they sum it up. So that’s more likely the better part to do. So we’ll just automatically do the last half.”
▪ Early voting in the runoff election for Place 3 seat on the Coppell City Council continues through 6 p.m. today. You can also vote between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Tuesday and between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday.
▪ Although most city facilities will be closed on Memorial Day – including the Cozby Library and Community Commons, the Senior and Community Center at Grapevine Springs, and the Biodiversity Education Center – The CORE will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with the outdoor pool open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
▪ Signs listing the names of Coppell ISD’s 2021 graduates will be displayed outside more than 40 businesses through Thursday. The city calls it a “Grad-venger Hunt.” I’ve seen people ask on Facebook if there’s a master list that shows which graduates’ names are at which businesses, but that would eliminate the fun of the hunt, wouldn’t it?