LHISD moves forward on bond projects

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

While some financial work remains, the wheels are turning on the list of projects planned to meet the needs of a growing student population in Liberty Hill.

The first step, after voters passed the $98.6 million bond package by more than 1,300 votes, is to prepare all of the finance documents to go to the market with the sale.

“We are doing our preparation for that right now,” said former Superintendent Dr. Rob Hart. “We are preparing a Preliminary Official Statement, and what that does is it gives the overall picture of Liberty Hill ISD on a financial side. We take that and it goes to Moody’s for our bond rating.”

The bond rating for school districts fluctuates with each new bond election because of the change in total debt, but in Texas, the guarantees on school bonds makes the process better for districts.

“Really, in the big picture, in Texas we’re fortunate because we have the Permanent School Fund (PSF), so we are PSFbacked,” he said. “That really makes your bond rating better. When you are a bond investor, you are looking at a tax-exempt, government guaranteed bond. That’s a good yield as an investor.”

Hart said the hope is to have the bond rating by the Dec. 16 board meeting and then be able to sell the bonds after.

“We roll out the bonds on a negotiated sale, where we go and get the rates, get back and look at it to see what the best rate is and then it goes back to the board to approve the final sale of the bonds,” he said. “That will all happen in January.”

Liberty Hill ISD has a history of favorable interest rates, but Hart said depending on the market and other issues, the bonds could be sold or pulled back for a more favorable rate later on.

“We’ve gotten pretty good rates before, and generally our advisor is good about picking the best rates and when to roll out,” he said. “We did roll out one time on the 2016 bond and we pulled it back. We waited a couple of weeks and went out again. That’s why we do the negotiated sell, taking orders, and if it is not good we redo it.”

Passing the bond gave the go-ahead to the district to build 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; and $14.7 million to add classroom space onto LHHS.

The new elementary school, to be built in Santa Rita, is first on the list.

“The board has approved the schematic design and it goes forward from there,” Hart said. “They hope to go out for bid around February.”

Bartlett Cocke was hired as the Construction Manager at Risk (CMR), the company that built Rancho Sienna Elementary and the high school.

“Now they’re working with the architect, and will do some preliminary pricing and after that it will go to bid,” Hart said.

If planning and cost projections between the CMR and Huckabee, the architect on the project, go well, bidding for subcontractors may occur in February. The district is hoping to open the school in August 2020.

“We’re looking at a 15-month construction period, and every time we’ve had projections they’ve been accurate,” Hart said. “Rancho Sienna was 12 and a half months and it worked.”

The other projects will follow suit, with a target for opening of 2021.

“Everything else has a target date of August 2021,” Hart said. “There will be an overlap of a few months because the middle school is an 18-month project so they will start while the elementary school is still under construction. The renovations are not a full year. The high school will be the biggest part of the construction part of the renovations because it is an addition.”

Construction at the high school will be going on during school, but that is something the district and contractors have prepared for and dealt with in the past.

“It’s a little bit cumbersome for the administration for that campus, but we’ve done it,” Hart said. “This one will be easier (at the high school) because we are attaching to the two wings. That wall will stay there, they will build on, then they will knock that wall out at the end.”

As these projects move forward, Hart said parents and residents will have the opportunity to follow the progress and stay up to date through board meetings as the district has done on past projects.

“We did a monthly update on the projects at a board meeting, that was a standing agenda item,” Hart said of previous bond projects. “The (CMR and architect) would both be there, and when things started going up they would do pictures to show progress as well. Some things will be updated on the website as well.”

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