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McAllen ISD approves agreement that would pave way for $4 million expansion of nature park

2 months 2 weeks 16 hours ago Tuesday, September 14 2021 Sep 14, 2021 September 14, 2021 8:48 AM September 14, 2021 in News - Local

The McAllen ISD Board of Trustees on Monday night unanimously voted to approve an agreement that would pave the way for a $4 million expansion of the Quinta Mazatlan, an urban sanctuary owned by the city of McAllen.

The funding is happening through the use of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER funds, which are federal dollars meant to address students getting back to school safely amid the pandemic.

The district says the funds will be used only for new construction of the McAllen ISD Discovery Center, a project geared toward getting students here to learn more about ecology.

McAllen ISD spokesperson Mark May said this step is something important for the community. 

“It’s a big win for our kids because we’re going to be afforded a rare opportunity to provide an authentic science lab right here in our own backyard,” said McAllen ISD spokesperson Mark May.

But it wasn’t without criticism.

One McAllen ISD parent at last month’s school board meeting was concerned how money from this move would utilize federal funding meant to address the impact of the pandemic on students.

“I’m having difficulty understanding the partnership between the school, our kids, and the park,” said Tory Guerra, a McAllen ISD parent.

The expansion would create 11 educational pods throughout the site, and will be open to all McAllen ISD students.

The district Monday night working to clarify that the use of those federal dollars is headed to the right place and a necessary investment for the future.

“We’re using this money to address achievement gaps, which do exist as a result of COVID, and this will not only address those achievement gaps, but it’s going to connect kids to higher education, and it’s going to bolster their education in the scientific realm for decades to come,” May said.

During a podcast with the superintendent back in June, the district said that ESSER funding could include new construction as an allowable use, if it can be justified and tied back to the pandemic.

When asked if the move was justified, May said the move is not only an investment to address achievement gaps that exist because of COVID, but "this is going to continue to pay dividends for years and years down the line."

According to the memorandum of understanding that was agreed on Monday evening, construction is expected to be completed by December 2024.

And while they are thankful for the partnership, the city of McAllen tells Channel 5 News they are continuing to seek outside funding for this project as a whole.

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