LHISD demographics study points to need for facilities

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

With a $98.6 million bond proposal on the November ballot, the quarterly demographics report at Monday’s Liberty Hill ISD Board meeting was especially timely, and demonstrated why voters will consider the third bond package in eight years.

“It just continues every quarter, higher and higher,” Superintendent Rob Hart said of the growth. “We get this every quarter, and every quarter the last several years it has been a record. This is another record for enrollment growth.”

While the demographic report, prepared by School District Strategies of Dallas, outlined dozens of indicators of future growth, some numbers show the immediacy of the issue better than others.

Enrollment for the district this year is 4,371, but projections under the moderate scenario point to 8,373 students by 2027. The high-end projection is just over 9,000 and low-end puts the district around 7,500 students within a decade.

The projection for the current year had been 4,474, keeping with the history of very close enrollment projections.

Population projections show 17,994 people residing within the district boundaries of Liberty Hill ISD, an increase of 13 percent over last year.

In 2018, the district is estimated to have 6,169 total households, an increase of 742 from the previous year, Hart said.

As a measure of student population in relation to households, the district averages .72 students per household, a number that fluctuates not only by grade but by attendance zone.

The .72 students per household is what is used to project future capacity loss and needs on various campuses.

The district looks primarily at lots, housing starts and sale closures as it focuses on future campus and classroom needs.

Looking at new construction, the district saw a record in the second quarter of 2018 with 256 new home starts and 186 closings.

“Started means the forms are put down and the slabs are poured,” Hart said. “If you look back to 2012, there were 31 homes started. Jump forward to 2018 and we have 265. It is a record quarter for new home starts and the second most closings in a single quarter in our history.”

Home starts have averaged 150 or more for six straight quarters, jumping dramatically in the last quarter from 185 to 265.

Closings outpaced starts in the final two quarters of 2017, but fell back below starts in 2018.

Looking at the last four quarters, there have been 760 starts with 721 closings.

Compared to other fast-growth districts in Central Texas, Liberty Hill ranked 11th in closings and 10th in starts over the last year.

By subdivision, Rancho Sienna with 182 starts and 194 closings over the past year, and Santa Rita South with 168 starts and 164 closings, led the way.

Even more telling in terms of future need is the number of lots on the books and those planned in the key subdivisions.

“Developers delivered a record 1,482 new lots over the last fourth quarter,” Hart said. “That means planned out, plotted out, ready to go.”

There are 2,148 fully developed vacant lots remaining at the end of June, with 994 in development and another 9,790 planned.

“When they are all built out, North and South Santa Rita, the Liberty Hill part alone will have 4,800 homes,” Hart said.

New home occupancy is projected to climb slightly each year, with 804 projected this year and a high point of 901 in 2021. The projection levels off in 2024 to just over 600 new homes occupied, but Hart said that lower number is more about projects not yet coming online that far out.

“Right now, it is projected in 2023 and 2024 to drop, but the reason that’s there is because when Rancho Sienna and Santa Rita are built out we have nothing scheduled to take its place,” he said. “I’m sure there will be other subdivisions popping up, but as of now, it is not on the books yet.”

While turnover of homes is not high in Liberty Hill, 184 pre-owned homes were sold in second quarter of 2018, with 618 over the past 12 years.

The property tax base will continue to increase with the new homes coming online, and home prices continue to increase as well.

The median price for a resale home is $348,400 and it is $305,497 for new homes.

Looking across the district’s attendance zones, 79 percent of all new homes being built are in the Rancho Sienna Elementary attendance zone, with 15 percent in Bill Burden Elementary’s zone.

Growth is primarily coming in the lower grades now, the report shows.

“When we first built the high school, it was not showing a need at the elementary level, only at the secondary levels,” Hart said. “Now we have more elementary need and now middle school need because those groups of kids that came on are now heading to the sixth, seventh and eighth grade. If you look at our class sizes, our smallest are our junior and senior classes, and everything below that is growing.”

Without the new campuses planned with the bond proposal, the report shows Rancho Sienna will be 78 students over capacity by 2019 and Burden over capacity by 38 in 2023. Liberty Hill Elementary has more breathing room, but will be within 100 students of capacity every year beginning in 2020. Across all elementary campuses, the district will be out of classroom space by 2020.

The Intermediate, Junior High and High School will be over current capacity by 2021.

“2020 is where we start losing capacity in the elementary schools, then 2021 for the Intermediate and Junior High and that’s where it gets close at the High School,” Hart said.

With the new planned campuses, elementary capacity will jump to 2,900 in the Fall of 2020 and 3,400 in the Fall of 2021. Current elementary enrollment is 1,804 and is projected to surpass 3,400 in 2024.

The Intermediate and Junior High will both be near capacity in 2020, but with the new middle school, along with the Junior High transition to a middle school, the capacity jumps to 1,700 and meets the projected need until 2024.

Without additional classrooms at the high school it will be within 100 students of capacity in three years. The addition will add capacity for 500 students and meet projected space needs through 2023.

The bond proposal calls for the construction of a new elementary school, a new middle school, convert the Intermediate School into an elementary campus, and add classroom space onto Liberty Hill High School.

The estimated price of the new elementary school, which will house 800 students, is $32.2 million.

The estimated costs of the other projects in the bond proposal are $50.5 million for the new middle school with a 900 capacity; $1.2 million to renovate the Intermediate campus to an elementary school; and $14.7 million to add classroom space onto LHHS.

Mike@LHIndependent.com

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