Voters say yes to $35 million school bond
By SHELLY WILKISON
Liberty Hill school district voters approved a $35 million bond package Saturday, $29 million of which will be used to build Rancho Sienna Elementary School.
In complete but unofficial returns, 618 ballots (67.69 percent) were cast in favor of the bond package with 295 against. Williamson County Elections division reported 913 ballots were cast in the election.
Superintendent Rob Hart said construction on the new school, which will house up to 800 students in grades pre-kindergarten through five, will begin as early as July. It is scheduled to open to students in August 2017.
With the addition of Liberty Hill’s third elementary school, the school district will move to a system of neighborhood schools whereby each campus will house students in all elementary grades. Attendance boundaries will be drawn during the next academic year prior to the school’s opening. Students living in Rancho Sienna subdivision will attend the new school.
With the change, Liberty Hill Intermediate School will serve only sixth graders beginning in fall 2017.
District officials said an additional elementary school was needed to handle enrollment growth at the elementary grade levels.
In late April, a fourth quarter 2015 demographic report commissioned by the school district projected enrollment to increase by 732 students over the next three years. In five years, the number of students is expected to increase by 1,448 and by over 3,500 in 10 years. With an annual growth rate of 6-8 percent, Hart said the student population will double in 10 years.
In April, LHISD enrollment was 3,503, and double-digit increases since the beginning of the school year were reported at the elementary level.
Hart said the school board is scheduled to canvass the votes when it meets at 6:30 p.m. Monday, but Williamson County has indicated that official results may not be available until May 17. In that case, Hart said a special board meeting will be called.
After canvassing the votes, the next step is to complete the administrative and legal tasks needed to sell the bonds with state Permanent School Fund backing, Hart said.
In addition to the new high school, the bonds will also pay for the renovation of the Agriculture barn on the campus of Liberty Hill Junior High, as well as security improvements at Liberty Hill Elementary School, and plumbing improvements at Liberty Hill Intermediate. If funds are available after the designated construction projects are complete, the district can use those for land acquisition for future facility needs.
In a blog post shared with The Independent this week by Rancho Sienna developer Newland Communities, Hart listed some of the amenities that will be included in the new school.
“We worked closely with Newland Communities and our architects to come up with a Hill Country design that will really blend in with the natural environment and terrain at Rancho Sienna,” Hart said. “The use of stone, metal, deep eave overhangs and other elements borrows from traditional Hill Country architecture and new landmarks such as The Sienna House.”
The campus will offer the latest in security technology, along with a robust Wi-Fi system that will allow students to get online from anywhere in the school.
“Education is moving away from having centralized computer labs, and toward strong Wi-Fi connections that allow every student to learn from their own personal computer. Rancho Sienna Elementary School will embrace this new trend,” Hart said.
Other highlights include an outdoor learning courtyard between the school’s two main wings, and a study loft in the library.
Rancho Sienna Elementary will fit in with the community’s commitment to sustainable development. It will be the first LHISD campus to use energy efficient insulated concrete form construction, and the third to utilize natural geothermal energy for heating and cooling.
Hart explained that wells drilled 350 feet deep in select spots near the school’s playground will access geothermal energy from the earth, using it to heat and cool air before it reaches the building.
“This system is incredibly energy efficient, reducing the carbon footprint of the campus and providing a very comfortable and productive learning environment,” he said.