LHISD breaking ground on Santa Rita Elementary

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Contractors are on the clock in Santa Rita South as construction of Liberty Hill ISD’s newest campus – Santa Rita Elementary – officially kicks off with a May 8 groundbreaking.

The new campus is going to be 105,786 square feet and will be located on Santa Rita Boulevard, across from the neighborhood park.

The approved guaranteed maximum price from Bartlett Cocke, the construction manager at risk, is $27.2 million including all contingency funds and fees and is scheduled for a 14-month completion.

The school district has already seen some savings from original cost projections of about $32 million at the time of the bond passage in November 2018, in part due to a large number of contractors submitting bids.

“What I was impressed with is the number of bidders we got on the subcontractors,” said Superintendent Steve Snell. “That keeps the costs down the more bidders you have. It means a better price and better value.”

While the campus will have its own look, it will look familiar in many ways.

“It will be real similar to Rancho Sienna,” Snell said. “The differences are the administration will be on the other side of the main hallway and the gym will be flipped. They thought it would make better traffic flow and makes more sense for parking.”

Maintenance closets and access will be set up differently, and some of the general look inside and out will be altered from the design of Rancho Sienna.

“There are some features in Rancho, like the spiral staircase up to a little reading nest, and we got rid of that but the collaborative space is still there, you will just get to it on the normal stairs,” he said. “A few aesthetics will be different but for the most part it will be a brand new state of the art campus just like Rancho is.”

Having unique learning spaces while still focusing on the traditional core of teaching is a balance Snell likes to see.

“We’re still, especially at the primary level, looking for ways to create collaboration and have them explore things and kind of get out of that rote sit in rows kind of thing,” he said. “But at the end of the day they need the basics.”

Snell has put a lot of focus on traffic flow, and with a new road planned eventually to connect Santa Rita Boulevard with SH 29, he believes traffic will be very manageable.

“They’re going to build an awesome school and we’re going to love it,” Snell said. “The thing I worry about as Superintendent is just traffic flow, because drop off and dismissal times are things I worry about. That’s what we need to make sure we get right.”

The technology on the new campus will not differ greatly from other recently-built campuses.

“The name of the game now with technology is flexibility and adaptability,” Snell said. “You really want a system that requires less plug in and more wireless. To have more wireless access points you just plan ahead and it saves the district a little money.”

The district wants to make sure the technology infrastructure is set to handle not only the number of devices, but all types of devices on the campus.

“There is an increased bandwidth capacity that you need in today’s world because it’s not just school devices but everybody has handheld devices,” he said. “It is not so prevalent on the elementary campuses as far as learning, but you might have Chromebooks, you might have some tablets or other things, so you want to make sure when it is time to use technology that it works and there’s enough bandwidth for them to create and produce and look up whatever they need to look up.”

Santa Rita Elementary is being built to house fewer students, keeping it more in line with where districts like to see capacity at that level.

“The capacity is going to be 800,” Snell said. “It is a little smaller than Rancho. It was built for 1,000, but Dr. (Rob) Hart knew with the projections coming that we would need more room. I’m glad he did because we’re over 800 at Rancho now. For us, it’s good to have another neighborhood school, but it’s also good to alleviate some of the pressure on Burden and Rancho Sienna and their enrollment.”

The 14-month construction schedule means beginning now puts completion around mid-summer of next year.

“We’re hoping there is substantial completion by July 1, 2020 so you have roughly a month to work out any kinks or last-minute fixes,” Snell said. “You want a level of comfort so staff is settled and ready to welcome kids and families in on that first day.”

The campus is set to have a staff of about 60, and Snell said a principal would likely be hired in January 2020.

“Their job is to get staff hired, handle logistics, work with us on furniture and the final touches of the building,” he said.

The May 8 groundbreaking ceremony is open to the public and will be at the school site at 5:30 p.m.

The new campus is the first being built following the November 2018 passage of a $98.6 million bond package that will eventually include $50.5 million for a new middle school with a 900 capacity; $1.2 million to renovate the Intermediate campus; and $14.7 million to add classroom space onto Liberty Hill High School.

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