LHISD voters will decide $98.6 million bond package
By SHELLY WILKISON
In three years, all Liberty Hill campuses will exceed capacity unless voters approve a $98.6 million package 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.
Liberty Hill ISD Trustees voted Monday to call a bond election for Nov. 6 in response to demographic projections showing the district’s skyrocketing enrollment fueled by new home construction and planned future development.
A committee of community members, which has been meeting since March, made its facility recommendations official on Monday.
Committee spokesperson Glen Reid said the committee was primarily motivated by the realization that all campuses would exceed capacity by the 2020-2021 school year.
Liberty Hill ISD is one of only 80 “fast growth districts” among 1,000 school districts in Texas.
“As we went through this over the past several months, the idea was to assist the district in meeting its needs in fast growth and put forth a plan with recommendations on the best way forward,” said Reid.
“We reviewed current facilities, demographic reports showing both moderate and high growth projections, financial information, options, cost details. We had input from architects, experts in financing and construction, and we prioritized the pressing needs of the district with those growth patterns.”
The construction projects recommended carry a price tag of $98.6 million, while the bonding capacity of the school district is $106 million.
“We felt comfortable proposing this amount,” Reid said. “It keeps us under bonding capacity, and it doesn’t raise the tax rate.”
Because of the growth in property value with the addition of new subdivisions and new residential construction, district officials say the bond package will not require a change in the tax rate.
On Monday, Trustees adopted a tax rate of $1.54 per $100 property value for 2018-2019. The rate is at the maximum level with $0.50 going toward debt service and $1.04 going toward maintenance and operations.
“The (facility) needs are glaring,” said Board President Clay Cole. “There’s been great discussion on getting this right and meeting those needs. I think this is a solid proposal.”
The Board voted unanimously to call the bond election with Trustee Clint Stephenson absent. Cole said Stephenson “has guaranteed his full support, so this Board really stands united in this proposal.”
Also Monday, the Board adopted the schematic plan for the new elementary school, which will be built at Santa Rita Ranch South if voters approve the bond package. The estimated price of the new elementary school, which will house 800 students, is $32.2 million.
The district’s architect said early adoption of the plan was necessary to meet the timeline for opening the campus in August 2020.
“It is in design now, and the plan is that it will go to bid early next year with construction starting in spring 2019 and ready for students in August 2020,” said Will Smith of Huckabee Associates.
“We’re working on design before it is approved because of the tight window we have,” added Cole. “We want to stay ahead of it and get things complete on time.”
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.
In a related vote, the Board selected the project delivery option of Construction Manager at Risk. The district has been using this method for construction projects since voters approved a bond election in 2010 to build the high school and athletic facilities. The same system was used for the construction of Rancho Sienna Elementary in 2016.
Smith said under CMR, all of the district’s projects have been built under budget and on time.
“The benefit is that by hiring the construction manager during the design phase, they are part of the design team, they get on board earlier to get familiar with the project and can look at cost options. The greatest benefit for cost savings comes during the design phase,” he said.
After the Board voted to call the election, they were advised of state ethics laws that prohibit the use of school district resources to advocate for passage of the bond package.
According to state law, an officer or employee of the district is not authorized to spend public funds for political advertising or any communication that proposes the outcome of an election.
“You can express your opinion on your own time using your own resources,” __ told the Board. “You wear two hats — you are community members and representatives of the district. As a representative of the district, you must remain factual at all times, but you’re free to say and do as you wish as a community member.”
She said when it comes to political campaigning, district resources are off limits to elected officials and LHISD employees. Among those are district property, facilities, equipment, email addresses, phones and staff time.
Also Monday, the Board adopted a resolution that will allow the district to reimburse the General Fund from bond proceeds for its pre-planning expenses.
The deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 6 election is Oct. 9. Early voting begins Oct. 22 and runs through Nov. 2.