LHISD Board approves new campus design

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Mike Eddleman
Managing Editor
The new Liberty Hill Middle School, slated to open its doors to students in the Fall of 2021, has a face.
The Board of Trustees unanimously approved the schematic plans of the newest campus to hit the drawing board at its Monday meeting.
The new middle school has a $50.5 million budget and is set to support up to 900 students.
The two-building campus will be about 150,000 square feet, compared to the 105,000 square feet in the new Santa Rita Elementary. It will be on 32 acres, situated directly east of the intersection of Santa Rita Boulevard and Ronald Reagan. Negotiations on the property are ongoing. The area around the new school will be additional homes for the Santa Rita development.
“Santa Rita East Boulevard will be built by the time the school opens,” said Architect Will Smith of Huckabee. “Not the whole thing, but a portion of it, enough to get cars to the site.”
As with all campuses in Liberty Hill, pick up and drop off of students was a prime concern and the four-way controlled intersection at the entrance, and ample space for cars to line up, is in the original plan.
“The main building sits on the property back off the road a little ways and what this allows is for cars to get in off Santa Rita Boulevard and we have a very generous cueing length here for pick up and drop off,” Smith said.
The bus pick up and drop off will be on a road on the eastern edge of the campus that comes around to the back of the main building, keeping the bus and parent drop off and pick up separated.
The east side of the main building is where two gyms, coaching and locker room facilities will be located. The location will allow access to the gyms after hours while easily closing off the remainder of the campus. It also allows controlled access to locker room and coaching offices.
The remainder of the main building is for administrative offices, kitchen and lunch room, as well as theater, band, art and career and technology classrooms.
All other classrooms will be located in the two-story second building on the west end of the property. The library is at the center of the academic building.
Smith said part of the reason the school was divided into two buildings was related to fire code issues.
“One thing it allowed us to do is make sure all the classrooms have windows,” he said. “keeping it all together would have made for a very large building and when you get buildings that size code makes you do some things that get quite expensive. For example you’d have to build a very expensive firewall separating the (two areas) if they were pushed together. There wasn’t any cost savings in pushing them together.”
The classroom building is designed to have sixth-grade students primarily separated from seventh and eighth graders in one side of the second floor.
“Each house is set up the same,” Smith said of the division of the two floors. “You’ve got a central teachers area set up like an office space. All of the teachers will have their desk and office space, then they will check out classrooms as they need them. This layout offers flexibility for a variety of teaching styles.”
For the higher grades, humanities is located on the first floor with science classes on the second with lab space, all wrapped around the library space.
“The library is the central core of the space,” Smith said. “It is an enclosed library but it does have windows into it and is very visible from wherever you are in this wing.”
While the campus is designed for 900 students, Smith said many of the core spaces – such as the library and cafeteria – are sized larger so additions can be made without having to expand those spaces. He added they would realistically support about 1,000 students.
“We have left room on the site and planned for future expansions if this campus were to need to grow to absorb some (population growth) rather than have to build another middles school.”
Projections show that when the new campus opens that each school would have a student population of about 650, according to Superintendent Steve Snell.

Planning process
Five teachers, as well as principals for the Intermediate and Junior High schools, were called on to spend time reviewing initial plans for the Middle School campus and provide feedback on functionality of the space and ideas for changes.
The Middle School Design Team visited other campuses for ideas, poured over existing plans to hash out potential problems and offer suggestions.
“They looked at the original design they were given and they tweaked it a little bit and made some small changes in it,” said Assistant Superintendent for Student and Operational Services Brad Mansfield. “They went and visited Wagner Middle School and they feel like the design they’ve come up with is good for kids, good for them space wise and good for collaboration.”
The committee focused on the functionality of the building decades from now as much as on what it will be like on the first day.
“When we looked at the first design the teachers were a little concerned because we did not want to build a building that would be outdated within five to 10 years,” said Intermediate Principal Josh Curtis. “We feel very good about the design and collaborative space. It is going to be more open and allow teachers the ability to go from class to class, to move walls and use team teaching.”
It considered philosophical issues such as how instructional space can compliment curriculum, all the way down to bathroom locations.
“Different programs and ideas come through all the time and you want something that 20 or 30 years down the road when you are still using the building, it can be used no matter what the mentality and focus is at that time,” said Junior High Principal Travis Motal. “There was a lot of input for things that are kind of second nature for school planning sometimes but you have to think about from the ground up.”
The committee came to a final plan with architects and engineers that district leaders believe will meet the needs of everyone.
“The whole goal of this was when the people who will use the building actually get into the building we want them to say ‘This works’,” Mansfield said. “We don’t want them to say why did we do this or do that?”

The Wagner connection
Wagner Middle School in Georgetown opened in 2017 at a cost of $55 million. The campus was designed and built with flexible teaching and collaborative space in mind and provided an example to consider as Liberty Hill planners began thinking about their new middle school campus.
“Wagner was built with somewhat of an open concept,” Snell said. “It can be used as a traditional school, but there’s lots of movable and flexible space and Tom Glenn High School (in Leander) is similar where if need be teachers can check out room or check out spaces, instead of in the classroom having a lot of teacher furniture and teacher things, there is storage for that and collaboration space for teachers.”
The design of Wagner provided the committee with many ideas and options, but Liberty Hill focused on finding the balance between traditional and innovative to suit its needs.
“The rooms become somewhat independent of the teachers and if you need to bring groups together you can make two classrooms just by folding a wall,” Snell said. “Wagner is kind of on one end of the spectrum with about as flexible and innovative as you can get and all that is great, but that’s why the input was so important. We don’t want to build something that our staff can’t use or doesn’t understand and the money spent becomes wasted. I think what we came up with is a great compromise.”

Old vs. New
Board member Megan Parsons asked if there was any concern or plan to address perceived inequalities between the current and new campus once the new school opens.
Both Motal and Snell addressed the question, focusing on how the schools would function similarly regardless of the buildings themselves.
“I think in reality the first year it will be that one is brand new with brand new stuff and we don’t have all that,” Motal said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t function in a comparable way.”
Snell said there could be some remodeling later on the current campus, but said every effort would be made to ensure the learning experience was the same.
“Instructionally and instructional program wise we’re going to have two schools serving the same community and they need to function the same and offer the same things,” he said. “Some of those perceived inequalities can be addressed through some of the flexible furniture. Some of it might need some remodeling, but we only have so much money so we’re trying to squeeze blood from a turnip with then ew school we’re building so we can make sure we’re getting everything, but at the end of the day there’s one Liberty Hill and there needs to be as much equality as we can provide.”
He also said it is possible that outside of core courses and curriculum, that the two schools could offer some different programming in areas such as career and technology training, but none of that has been discussed or considered so far.
“We have a brand new $4 million ag barn at the current Junior High,” Snell said. “We’re just starting to build up that ag program. Will we be able to have that at both campuses or is that something kids will have to choose? I don’t know.”

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