LHISD voters to decide $35 million bond

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By SHELLY WILKISON

Liberty Hill school trustees on Monday approved a schematic plan for a $29 million elementary school and called a bond election for May 7, which will also include $6 million for improvements to the agriculture barn and Liberty Hill Elementary School.

The $35 million bond package received unanimous support by school trustees, who also chose the name Rancho Sienna Elementary for the new campus. District administrators say if voters approve the bond issue in May, construction will begin this summer and the campus will open to students in August 2017.

Administrators have said previously that the bond issue will not result in a tax rate increase.

On Monday, trustees and school administrators viewed a schematic design of the new school that will house pre-kindergarten through fifth grades.

Architects described the facility, showing a 360-degree view of the buildings, play areas and parking lots.

Designers say they looked at Rancho Sienna’s Sienna House amenities center, which served as the primary inspiration for the outside of the building.

Also considered was Zoot Pet Hospital, which they said was the inspiration for Liberty Hill High School that opened in 2013. Other campuses in the Liberty Hill ISD share similar materials — stone, medal panels, exposed steel and windows for plenty of natural light.

Some highlights of the new campus that drew the acclamation of school principals present were covered dropoff areas for car and bus riders, a large parent dropoff area that will virtually eliminate the traffic issues currently experienced by the existing elementary campuses, a quarter-mile walking path around a play area the size of a football field, and an outdoor learning area or courtyard between the two two-story classroom buildings. Pre-K through first grades will be housed on the first floor of the classroom wings with second-fifth grades on the second floor.

The campus is designed for up to 1,000 students, but the capacity is 800. The architect explained that collaboration spaces could be converted to individual classroom space if it became necessary.

A public relations representative from the architectural firm of Huckabee & Associates informed board members and school officials of state ethics laws governing their involvement in the bond election.

District employees may not use district resources or time to advocate for or against the bond proposal. The Superintendent may only speak on the facts relating to growth rates, facilities, costs and voting information.

Elected officials acting in their position as board members may only speak to the facts. However, it is permissible for them to act as “community members” using their own time and resources to advocate for the bond proposal.

For example, a board member may attend a community meeting and urge support of the package as long as he or she is “on their own time.”

Trustees can also contribute personal money to a political action committee, place a political sign in their yards, sign their names to letters to the editor or political advertising as long as they are not identified as board members.

Trustees voted unanimously to approve the name of Rancho Sienna Elementary for the new school.

Superintendent Rob Hart said it has become customary in fast-growing school districts to choose directional names for campuses.

“It gives you a sense that they know where it is, even though it will serve more than the subdivision,” he said.

The Board also adopted a resolution that will allow the district to recoup some of the project expenses from bond funds as far out as 18 months after the election.

The Board also approved Bartlett Cocke General Contractors as the district’s Construction Manager at Risk (CMR) for the bond projects.

Hart said the district also received a bid from Joeris Construction, but that company had less experience with CMR projects and school construction.

“We were familiar with them (Bartlett Cocke), we know the team, they did our administration office and the high school. We were very pleased with them and the $86 million massive three-year project they did for us,” Hart said.

The company was the CMR on the 2010 bond election projects.

Also Monday, the Board heard a report from Assistant Superintendent Chad Pirtle on results of an online auction that ended this week. The district created a three-week auction on www.govdeals.com to free itself of “junk,” Pirtle said.

The district sold 1980 model buses, old maintenance trucks, and attempted to sell old model televisions and overhead projectors. In total, LHISD was able to reclaim $14,300 on the items.

Also Monday, the Baord approved a resolution allowing the district to participate in the PACE Purchasing Cooperative for supplies. There are no membership fees or direct costs to the district for participation.

Prior to Monday’s discussion about the new school, students from Liberty Hill Intermediate and Junior High schools were recognized for their participation in the UIL academic district meet.

Following a 40-minute executive session, the Board accepted the resignations of Chief Financial Officer Frank Watson, Carolyn Canon (LHJH IT), Rachael Hull (LHIS Special Education teacher) and Eric Murphy (LHIS Special Education teacher).

The Board approved the employment of Grace Rowse as LHIS Special Education teacher. The Board also accepted a $500 donation from Pedernales Electric Cooperative.

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