Construction phase of school bonds begins with land purchase

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By Kristen Meriwether

With the $491.7 million bond package passing in May, the Liberty Hill Independent School District is now moving into the construction phase of district expansion.

At Monday’s school board meeting, trustees voted to approve the district’s construction manager at risk for three projects that were part of the 2021 bond proposal.

Bartlett Cocke, who has been working with the district on projects from the 2018 bond, will be the CMR for Middle School #3, and Joeris will be the CMR for Elementary #6 and the Liberty Hill Middle School additions and renovations.

“Bartlett, Cocke has proven themselves capable, time and time again in Liberty Hill and Joris has a great reputation,” Superintendent Steven Snell told The Independent Tuesday. “We feel confident with the projects we have, that they can do the job and they can get the subcontractors.”

The construction industry, like many industries, has struggled to find enough workers to fill all the open positions. The industry has also been hit with supply chain issues that have made everything from calk to steel difficult to find.

“We’ve got some unprecedented conditions,” Bond Program Manager Casey Sledge said at Monday’s board meeting. “We’ve probably said unprecedented in our careers before, but I know we’ve never had anything quite like this.”
Sledge added that, “material delays are very real.” He said alternative materials could be used during construction, and they are exploring the possibility of storing material if it is cost-effective.

But there is no hack for the labor shortage. Construction, particularly in the Austin Metro Area, is booming. A large part of the evaluation of the CMRs was to ensure they could provide enough workers to complete projects on time.

On Tuesday, Snell said the district will build in contingencies with the CMRs that would have penalties for projects delivered late. The contracts will also have contingencies for the budget to account for fluctuations in material costs.

Snell said they want the projects done on time, but could use portable buildings already on campuses if construction runs into the school year.

The school board also approved moving forward to close on two parcels of land next month, a 95.611-acre track near US Highway 183 and CR 258 and a 17-acre parcel located near US Highway 183 and CR 207.

The 17-acre site is funded through the bond, but not for one of the pre-planned projects. The bond allowed money for the district to purchase land for future development outside of the scope of the bond-approved projects.

The Board also approved placing a third site of 12.83 acres under contract in the Bar W neighborhood. The district will spend several months investigating the site before closing.

Final decisions have not been made on exactly what schools will go where, Snell said.

“We want to reduce the amount of time that kids and parents are on the road traveling to these schools,” Snell said Tuesday. “So we need to make sure we have a good site in a good location that kind of mirrors the future development.”

To help manage future land purchases the Board approved a real estate consulting agreement with Bill Chapman, owner of Chapman Property Investments and a former president of the City of Liberty Hill’s Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors.

In other business the Board approved the annual Campus Improvement Plan. The plan, which is required by the State of Texas, sets the academic and behavioral goals for the students and ensures they align with overall district goals.

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