SWEENY — Most of the heavy lifting happened behind closed doors, but the Sweeny ISD Board of Trustees made a couple of major hires, bringing in a new police chief and athletics director for the district.
Following a lengthy executive session, the board voted unanimously to hire Ulysses Velez as the new chief and Jay Seibert, who will pull double duty as the new AD and head football coach.
Velez is a 20-year veteran of the Brazoria County Sheriff's Office, where he went up the ranks from a jailer to a patrol deputy, mental health officer, investigator and administrator who eventually held the rank of lieutenant.
After deciding to get back into law enforcement, Velez learned of the opening in Sweeny and jumped at the chance, he said.
The new chief will be making a commute from Iowa Colony, where he lives with his family, who came along to the meeting. Sweeny ISD Superintendent Daniel Fuller announced Velez would be sworn in as soon as his new-hire paperwork was completed.
Velez looks to gain trust from the students and faculty to institute change rather than making sweeping reversals in policy upon setting foot in the district, he said.
"My plan is to just get settled in here, learn everybody, see how they're working. I'm not planning on coming in here and making big changes," Velez said. "A lot of agencies, when somebody new comes in they make a complete wipe and then implement
massive changes. I'm of the philosophy that you may have your vision, but you have to have your people on board."
Seibert comes to Sweeny after working under the same titles for Rockport-Fulton High School.
The district also heard from Chief Human Resources Officer Charolet Black, who presented some ideas for a revenue-neutral way to recruit candidates to fill vacancies both through the school system. She also offered ways to promote from within using paraprofessionals already in the district's employ.
"Over the past couple of months, we've been visiting with different organizations, different providers and different universities," Black said. "My goal was that we would be able to provide a menu of support that — wherever that individual is in their journey to become a certified teacher in the classroom — we could meet them where they are and help them find that pathway to certification."
The proposal is for different programs such as a Future Teacher Academy and a Future Teacher University to offer students desiring to go into teaching a way to get a leg up in getting their certification and for employees to step into teaching roles as they finish their certification, respectively.
The options included offering dual-credit classes, classroom positions for high schoolers and tuition reimbursement in exchange for working a predesignated number of years.
number of years. Details of the program are likely to be presented to the board for action in the year ahead, Black said.
Other business included the renewal of the district's property casualty insurance, which came at a significant increase over the previous year. The board decided to mitigate the increase by moving to a 5 percent deductible on wind claims outside of those that result from named storms.
WEST COLUMBIA — Heavy equipment, mounds of dirt and piles of road materials line the sides of Highway 36 from Brazoria to West Columbia. The decades-long wait to expand the highway has begun.
From Port Freeport to Highway 59, the Texas Department of Transportation is widening Highway 36 to improve traffic flow during hurricane evacuations. The current highway through West Columbia is four lanes, and construction will widen that to include a center turn lane and an overpass at Highway 35.
To prepare for construction, centuries-old oak trees were removed, buildings were torn down and utilities are being relocated. The highway department estimates the project will be finished at the end of 2025.
West Columbia City Manager Debbie Sutherland said, so far, the only inconveniences reported are "disruptions in telephone, cable, and internet line breaks and water line breaks."
The construction comes as Columbia-Brazoria ISD is designing a safer traffic pattern for the high school's entrance from Highway 36 as part of its $79 million bond to rebuild Columbia High School. Superintendent Steve Galloway said he and other members of the district met with transportation department and its contractor's representatives last week to discuss the project and how it will impact the school's plans.
"The entrance/exits to the CHS campus will remain open and should not be an issue," Galloway said. "The sidewalk from CHS to the stop light for crossing to the McDonald's side of the road will be removed. There will be no student pedestrian activity allowed during the project construction. A new sidewalk will be in place at the completion of the project."
Transportation Department Public Information Officer Danny Perez said the department will coordinate with the school district to minimize impacts.
"For example, some of the work on the access to the school will be scheduled during various school breaks throughout the year," he said.
North of the high school, an overpass will take Highway 36 across Highway 35. Property owners sold their rights of way to the state several years ago, including the Gulf Coast Christian Center, which owns the triangular-shaped piece bordered on the north by Highway 35 and the
west by Highway 36.
"They're going to take about 25 or 30 feet of our parking lot for the highway," Pastor Bob Hankins said. "I don't know if they're going to cut off Ottis Lane or not. They will tear down the little antique store."
Ottis Lane runs behind the church parking lot, and Perez said access from Highway 36 to the side street will "remain in place." As for the antiques store, it will be removed this year.
"Currently, we do not have a firm schedule to provide regarding the demolishing of this building," Perez said. "However, we anticipate it happening sometime later in the year."
Hankins said he did not anticipate any problems with parking for church services, but the church will have to move the playground equipment.
"They will take about half of our playground. We'll have to move it. We'll have to take down the merry-goround and what have you," he said. "They haven't really contacted us. I just know what I do from the paper. We knew it was coming, we just didn't know when. It's going to be quite a change."
The Christian Center also owns the Iglesia Centro Cristiano across the street. Hankins said their parking lot was lost in the sale of the right of way so the church built another parking area behind the church more than a year ago.
Coburn Chiropractic Center, just north of Highway 35, will be one of the closest buildings to the future on-ramp for Highway 36. Dr. Bob Coburn has been in the building since 1979 when he bought it from Dr. Mayfield.
"He built that when I was in high school, in 1968," Coburn said. "My mother worked for him. That's how I got into chiropractic."
After 44 years in practice in the same building, Coburn said he may redesign his office, moving the entrance to the side or even the rear of the building.
"So, the northbound ramp will go right in front of our office. According to them (TxDOT), the curb will be a minimum of 12 feet from the property line. The blessing is, it will be the on ramp.
"I don't know if we can survive that. Honestly, if it gets too rough, we'll just have to move someplace in town. That's what we've resigned ourselves to. I don't want to retire. I still love what I do."
The highway department invites the public to a community meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, at the West Columbia Civic Center, 518 E. Brazos Ave. Representatives from the department and the contractor, Webber, LLC, will be available to answer questions and will have maps to share.
To see timely updates about the project, including road closure information, visit www.houstontranstar.org/construction. Scroll down to "SH-36 in Brazoria County" for status updates.
SWEENY — Sweeny has found its next head football coach and athletics director.
Former Rockport-Fulton head coach Jay Seibert was approved by Sweeny ISD's board Tuesday night to be the district's 21st head football coach.
He replaces Clayton Odom, who resigned after two years with the district and is now the assistant head coach at Katy Paetow.
"They have a winning tradition and have been winning in football for a long time with a lot of great players doing a lot of great things," Seibert said. "These last couple of years haven't been the greatest, but it is an opportunity to go there, build them back up and bring back the Sweeny pride.
"I love the idea of building teams, and I think it will be a good opportunity for me."
Seibert spent nine seasons with the Pirates, compiling a 65-41 overall record. His career coaching record is 83-56. His other head-coaching gig includes Troy from 2011-13 before coming to Rockport-Fulton in 2014. He was also an assistant at Liberty Hill and Gregory-Portland.
His more than a decade of experience includes taking his teams to the regional finals four times, leading the Pirates to a 10-win season in 2021, two district titles and making the playoffs in eight of Seibert's nine seasons at Rockport-Fulton.
Under Seibert, the Pirates ran a 3-4 defense and a Slot-T-based offense.
"We run what is called the Gun-T. We are half spread and half Slot-T, and we mix in play-action passes with RPOs," he said.
The coach also led the Pirates in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2018 by winning the district title and advancing the team to a regional semifinal.
"We practiced for four weeks and
played two games with no electricity or running water, and that year, we found a way to get into the playoffs," he said.
Rockport-Fulton was 1-4 in District 15-4A, D-I play and 3-7 overall last season.
From a district's athletics standpoint, every RockportFulton High School team qualified for the postseason in the last school year, he said.
"We built a program there that wins across the board," Seibert said.
The Bulldogs might also be getting a new starting quarterback.
Seibert's son, Ace, will be a senior next season when he plays for Sweeny. In his junior year, Ace Seibert was 72-of186 passing (38.7 percent), 1,228 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has had 259 yards on 74 carries and six rushing touchdowns. Those numbers were good enough for All-District 15-4A, D-I first-team recognition.
Ace Seibert also plays baseball and is a three-sport athlete in his junior year at Rockport-Fulton.
Sweeny was under the direction of Odom for two seasons, missing the playoffs for the first time in nine years in 2022.
The Bulldogs finished 1-9 overall and 0-6 in District 10-4A, D-II and were 3-14 in district and 6-24 overall under Odom's tenure.
Seibert's last day at Rockport-Fulton will be Feb. 19.
Columbia is also looking to wrap up its head football coach and athletics director search.
Former Columbia AD Brent Mascheck became Flatonia's newest AD and head football coach Feb. 2. He was 39-32 in seven seasons with the Roughnecks.
Jake Dowling is the sports editor for The Facts. Contact him at 979-237-0161 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.