Trustees accept concept plan for new elementary campus
By SHELLY WILKISON
Although some questioned the available space for a playground, school trustees Monday gave unanimous approval to a conceptual plan for a new elementary school.
Administrators say Liberty Hill needs an additional elementary campus, citing current overcrowded campuses and projected growth in enrollment.
The school will be built at Rancho Sienna subdivision contingent upon voter approval of a bond package in May 2016.
The school on Sienna Blvd. will be designed for pre-kindergarten through fifth grades and can accommodate 800 students, with 1,000 being the maximum capacity. With 113,000 square feet, it will be 17,000 square feet larger than Bill Burden Elementary, which houses grades two through four.
The conceptual plan calls for two classroom wings that are two stories tall and separated by grade levels. An outdoor courtyard separates the two buildings.
The core learning area includes the library, gym, administrative offices, cafeteria and dining area.
“For the capacity of the school, is this enough outdoor play area?” asked Trustee Shawn Roberts.
An architect from Huckabee & Associates explained that the courtyard between the classroom buildings is meant for educational purposes. The playground would be in the area between the end of the buildings and a privacy fence that separates the school property from a row of houses inside the subdivision.
The designer said the playground is a different shape than those at Burden and Liberty Hill Elementary, but is similar in size. The gym will also be the same size as the Burden gym.
Hart clarified that although the facility could hold 1,000 students, that was not an ideal situation.
“When we’re at 600-700 (students), we need to be building another one (elementary school),” he said.
Officials say the school will take 14 months to build and will open to students in August 2017. If voters approve the bonds in May 2016, construction could begin in the summer.
A more detailed plan of the interior of the facility — a schematic plan — will be presented for Board review and approval in February.
In addition to the conceptual plan, trustees also approved Monday the Construction Manager at Risk (CMR) as its construction delivery method.
The district used the CMR method for projects approved in the 2010 bond election. Under this system, the general contractor assumes the risk and hires the subcontractors, and stays within a Guaranteed Maximum Price.
The district contracted with Bartlett Cocke as its CMR during the last bond election, which provided for a new high school and athletic complex as well as renovations and expansions at other campuses for a total cost of $86 million.
In a previous meeting, trustees approved a contract with Huckabee & Associates for architectural and engineering services. The firm also spearheaded the school district’s 2010 construction projects.
A Community Committee on School Facilities, chaired by Gerald Lorance and Chelle Harrison, has met twice since the last school board meeting in November. Superintendent Rob Hart said recent meetings have been well-attended.
“We’ve been providing them with lots of data, and the (enrollment) projections got their attention. They all understand we’re growing, but when you see the rate, it hits home,” said Hart.
In addition to the new elementary school, Hart said the committee is also considering additional construction projects to include in the bond package.
“Conditions of facilities need attention beyond a new elementary school,” Hart said.
Although he did not identify those Monday, he said the committee would bring those recommendations to school trustees at their next regular meeting, Jan. 18, 2016.
In order to meet the filing deadlines for the May election, trustees must call for the election in February.
In other business this week, trustees voted unanimously to create a position for a Human Resources Director.
Hart said it’s time for the school district to have a Human Resources Department, which will be staffed by a director and clerical support staff.
Presently, he said staff members from various departments play a role in the hiring process, as well as handling employee grievances, terminations and other issues.
But last summer, when more than 70 new employees were hired, Hart said it became evident that an HR Department is needed.
With an estimated 542 employees, Roberts agreed that having an HR department would be comparable to companies in the private sector.
“What we have isn’t a smooth process anymore,” Hart said, adding that administrators would like to fill the new position before the hiring season begins in March.
Also Monday, Chief Financial Officer Frank Watson presented an overview of the 2013-2014 School FIRST (Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas), which showed LHISD with a passing score.
Watson said LHISD earned the maximum passing score of 30.
The report, which can be found on the school district’s website, requires certain disclosures including the Superintendent’s current employment contract, and reimbursements received by Hart and Board members for fiscal 2014.
Hart’s contract, which was signed by trustees in early December, provides for the annual salary of $178,563. Compensation for auto and phone allowances are reflected in the salary.
The disclosed reimbursements for Hart and school trustees in fiscal 2014 included funds for lodging and transportation to attend Texas Association of School Boards conventions and training.
Hart was reimbursed $885.14 while former trustee Leslye Pogue received $828.01 in reimbursements. Shawn Roberts received $773.89; Mike Bowles and Shawn Vickers each received $762.61; David Nix, $747.91; former Board member Alfie Perrin, $751.33; and Board President Clay Cole, $554.40.
The document showed no outside compensation for Hart during the time period, and no financial gifts to the Superintendent or board members. The report also contained no disclosure of business transactions between the school district and trustees.
Watson said 85 percent of Texas school districts earn a passing score on the Schools FIRST, and four school districts are being closed down as a result of findings in their reporting.
Following a 45-minute closed session, the Board accepted the resignations of Vanessa Conner, a high school English teacher; Scott Copeland, assistant principal at Liberty Hill Intermediate School; and Jeanne Bair, a junior high math teacher.
The Board approved the employment of Traci Haffelder, who will teach 4th Grade English/Language Arts and Social Studies, and Kathryn French, who will teach junior high math.