LHISD Board to talk new middle school

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

With Santa Rita Elementary taking shape, Liberty Hill ISD is putting its multi-tasking skills into high gear as planning for the next campus approved in the 2018 bond election picks up steam.

The new middle school, also planned for Santa Rita South, has a $50.5 million budget and is set to support up to 900 students. The Board of Trustees is expected to consider schematic designs of the campus at its Nov. 18 regular meeting.

“Our plan for the 18th agenda is to have the Board consider approval of the schematic design of the new middle school,” said Project Engineer Casey Sledge. “Essentially, there are three phases of design. The first phase is schematic, the next phase is design development and the final one is construction documents”

What Sledge is hoping for with this first phase is to work out any changes and address any concerns early on, before moving into the other phases.

“The further along you get the harder and more expensive it is to change, so these milestones are important,” he said. “We really don’t want to have to go back.”

The new campus will be about 150,000 square feet, compared to the 105,000 square feet in the new Santa Rita Elementary. The size is based on the number of students planned for, but also other factors.

“The difference is all the amenities we put in the middle school for all the activities such as a competition gym and more Career and Technology Education type spaces,” Sledge said.

There will be economies of scale in the construction, but those amenities and the site will add to the cost versus the elementary school.

“The land is substantially bigger for the middle school,” Sledge said. “Santa Rita as comparable, is about a 14-acre site, and the middle school is a 32-acre site.”

Negotiations on the property are ongoing.

Sledge said he is very comfortable with the initial price tag suggested when the bond was passed.

“We had a milestone meeting with (construction manager) Bartlett Cocke and (architect) Huckabee specifically to review the schematic design as we’re getting ready to present it and what we think it would cost,” he said. “The good news it is right in line and we should have no trouble fitting within that budget.”

There will be some items the Board could choose to add on, but nothing Sledge said would force the district to go over the original budget.

“One of the things we will talk about with the Board is whether they will want to add anything extra to the site compared to what was discussed at bond election time,” Sledge said. “As an example of one I think they will probably consider is building a track at that middle school site. What I will show them is where we are in relation to the price. We can afford the building they want and we can afford the track and probably a few other things, but we start to push up against the budget then and we want to be careful about that. We still have two more projects to compete with the bond so we want to be cognizant that we’re not taking money from one of those projects.”

The planning process has included many educators, which has led to many changes.

“One thing I’m very happy with is (Superintendent) Steve Snell and (Assistant Superintendent) Brad Mansfield did was they put together a team of middle school staff representatives for me to deal with and run this project through and we’ve been able to meet with them throughout,” Sledge said. “What I like most about this team is they have not been at all afraid to talk about how they want to educate, which is a very important discussion when you’re laying out a building.”

Discussions included things like how to use collaborative space and how teachers will use classrooms.

“Most importantly is they are talking about what’s going to happen in 10 or 20 years, how we’re going to educate kids then,” he said. “That’s a tough conversation. But because of the way this team has worked we have really changed the design. The overall square footage is the same, but the interior layout is substantially different.”

The new middle school will be two stories in the classroom wings, with the other portions one story.

Sledge and the design team will again hold their public information session at 5 p.m. prior to Monday’s Board meeting for anyone to come in and see drawings and documents and ask questions about the bond process and projects to date. The meeting will be held at the LHISD Administration Building.

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