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Fate Sets Texas TownOn a Collision Course

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The citizens of Waxahachie, Tex., have been working for three years to become the home of the world's largest atom smasher. They have studied the federal project's impact on their economy, their land, and their lifestyle.

But when word came on Nov. 10 that the North Texas town of 18,000 had beaten out six other communities competing to house the superconducting super collider, excitement was mixed with apprehension.

While the Chamber of Commerce hosted a champagne celebration and one local bank flashed a "We Got It!" sign on its electronic marquee, some in Waxahachie were pondering what growth would really mean for a community whose biggest boast had been the size of its cotton harvest.

The super collider, which will use powerful, electricity-conducting magnets to accelerate subatomic particles to nearly the speed of light, is expected to yield insights into the fundamental forces of nature.

But for Waxahachie officials--particularly those concerned with the schools--dealing with the force of change may be a more awesome task. And it begins now.

David W. Montgomery, superintendent of schools for the Waxahachie Independent School District, noted last week that both the massive construction project involved and the facility's eventual staffing needs will swell the enrollments of the schools.

And the onslaught of construction workers and their families--which could begin in only 18 months, if the Congress approves the necessary $4.4 billion--may have to be met, he said, with uncertain school financing.

"I think the district is apprehensive," said Ronnie Hastings, a physics and mathematics teacher at Waxaha4chie High School. "We will have to begin expanding soon, but there will not be a lot of direct funding initially."

The Texas legislature last year set aside $1.1 billion to offset the immediate impact of the collider on the region. And Superintendent Montgomery, though not quite certain how the money will be divvied up, said that "we're hoping some of it would be earmarked for the schools.''

A Town Reshaped

Located some 25 miles south of Dallas, Waxahachie stands to see its economy as well as its population reshaped by the U.S. Energy Department's decision to name it as the site of the super collider. The department estimates that about $270 million a year will be spent on the facility after 1996, when it is due to be completed. The funds would support about 3,000 staff scientists and technicians.

An estimated 4,000 workers will be needed to dig the 52-mile long oval tunnel and build the research campus and other facilities.

Once completed, the project could create, in addition to those employed at the complex, as many as 14,500 jobs in support industries. About 500 scientists from around the world would visit the facility each year.

In the long run, educators in the town said last week, the project will mean an expanded local tax base, which could help the schools.

But it will also mean the transformation of a quintessential farming community--one that was the bucolic locale for the 1984 motion picture, "Places in the Heart"--into the hub of a high-tech industrial complex. Estimates are that the project eventually could boost the Dallas-area population by about 30,000.

Boost to Science Curriculum

Mr. Hastings, for one, thinks the change will be invigorating.

"Science will no longer be alien to my students," said the physics teacher, "because we will be surrounded by scientific research."

But upgrading the curriculum--particularly in science--has been a major concern of district officials contemplating the changes that will come with the super collider.

"People who will be coming into the area are probably more interested in science" and would expect a first-rate curriculum, Mr. Montgomery said.

Already, the science curriculum has gotten a boost through the publicity over the collider, said Mr. Hastings, who was a member of one of several local committees set up to lobby for the project. He took some of his students to the committee meetings.

"There's an air of excitement and enthusiasm," he said. "We've been trying to keep the students abreast of what our chances of getting the s.s.c. were, and they already had a good idea of what it would mean."

Mr. Hastings has a Ph.D. in geology and was one of four teachers in the state to receive recognition this year from the Texas chapter of the American Association of Physics Teachers. He said would like to see more local support for "building up the science program, K-12."

Under the contract with the federal government, the Texas legislature will be asked to appropriate funds to universities for hiring collider scientists as adjunct professors.

School-System Planning

Waxahachie is the largest school district in Ellis County, covering 190 miles and enrolling 5,000 students. About half its current $15-million budget comes from the state.

The district has five elementary schools, an intermediate school (grade 6), a junior high school (grades 7 and 8), and a high school. Their enrollment could expand initially by about 1,000 students over all, Mr. Montgomery predicted. Two of the elementary schools are new, he said, built just last year.

The district has also scheduled joint planning meetings with nearby school systems, Mr. Montgomery said, since workers may choose to live in communities outside Waxahachie.

For now, the superintendent said, he is satisfied with the pace of preparations.

"We have been looking at the potential impact on the district for several months," he said. "We've had a good planning effort in keeping up with community needs, and we'll continue that process this spring."

Although some of the current tax base would be lost when the federal government acquires the land for the facility, studies have estimated that about $125 million would be generated in new state and local tax revenues over the construction period.

But for the next year at least, Mr. Montgomery said, "a lot will depend on how fast the Congress moves on funding the collider."

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