West Orange-Cove CISD unveils event center with a celebration

Published 9:50 am Tuesday, May 30, 2023

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WEST ORANGE — Dr. Rickie Harris remembers coming to West Orange-Cove CISD in late March nearly a decade ago.

The first difficult decision he made as superintendent was to move that year’s graduation inside because it rained all week.

“Now, I’ve been here eight years, and I think we have had only three or four graduations outside because of the weather,” he said. “Having to be a meteorologist at the end of May and the beginning of June is just not a comfortable position.”

That led to the start of a bond project where district leaders and educators started talking about creating a venue where West Orange-Stark High School students could comfortably graduate inside.

That plan came to fruition Friday as the school celebrated the Class of 2023 inside the newly-constructed West Orange-Cove Event Center.

“It brings tears to my eyes,” Harris said. “Someone just asked me, how do you feel about the fact that the first event is the graduation? What people don’t understand is the graduation is the driver of the whole project.”

The event center was in local headlines early last week when it was announced G&G Enterprises Construction Corporation donated $1 million to the school district and was granted exclusive naming rights to the facility for ten years.

An official name will be announced at a later date.

At the time, G&G Construction CEO Natasha Garrett said company leaders and stakeholders are excited to witness the positive influence the center is going to have on the community.

Harris said school district leaders feel the same way.

“I am excited about the graduation, band activities we will be able to have, renting out to the university or other organizations and I’m even excited about trying to go and ask UIL, ‘can we host the regional basketball tournament?’” he said.

“I see things like that are going to bring taxable income into our community. If we can bring the regional basketball tournament here, we will have people staying in our hotels and eating in our restaurants. That is helping our community. That is the whole goal with this thing: to be an impact to the community.”

Harris joked that plenty of effort was made to create a true unveiling of the center for the community at Friday’s graduation.

The few who toured the facility beforehand were overwhelmed but also pledged their secrecy.

“They all imagined an image of what they thought it was going to be, and everyone of them who has walked in, looked with tears in their eyes and said, ‘I never thought it would look like this,’” Harris said. “You can see the pride in them as they say, ‘this is ours.’ They are so excited. They deserve it.

“Our kids did not see it (before graduation). We did not do rehearsals in it. The first time those graduates saw this facility is when they came in the back door, turned and came in those tunnels. That is why I was so adamant about no pictures. I wasn’t actually going to do it, but I went as far as telling some ‘if someone took a picture, they just took a picture of their job.’ I didn’t want anything posted.”

When the West Orange-Cove Event Center construction is complete, district officials said it would serve as a hub for various school and community activities, utilizing state-of-the-art facilities and versatile spaces to provide a platform for diverse events such as sports competitions, performances, community gatherings and educational programs.