Rancho Sienna will be home to next LHISD elementary school


Rancho Sienna land plan-webBy SHELLY WILKISON

Liberty Hill’s newest elementary school will be constructed at Rancho Sienna, according to a contingency agreement developed between the school district and subdivision owner Newland Communities.

Superintendent Rob Hart said this week that while the need will be there to open the school in fall 2017, a bond election would need to be held in May 2016, and no plans have been finalized yet.

Hart said the 12-acre property set aside for the school in Rancho Sienna will be turned over to the school district on the contingency that the district sells the two-story building that formerly housed the administrative offices.

The agreement with Newland allows the district one year to sell the building on State Highway 29, which is valued at about $1 million. When the district closes on that sale, it will pay for the infrastructure already in place on the lot at Rancho Sienna. Hart said the agreement caps the expense at $550,000.

“We looked at several options for what will be the district’s third elementary school campus, and the location in Rancho Sienna was the obvious choice,” Hart said.

He said the lot at Via de Sienna Blvd. has easy access to Kauffman Loop, which is under construction now. That street runs on the north side of the subdivision from Ronald Reagan Blvd. to SH 29.

Hart, who lives at Rancho Sienna, said the access in and out of the neighborhood was an important factor to district officials.

“That is the biggest problem we have at Bill Burden (elementary school),” he said. “There is a lot of traffic and only one way in and out (of Stonewall Ranch).”

He said it isn’t uncommon for residential developers to set aside land for a potential school. Having a school in the neighborhood is a draw for potential homebuyers. While other subdivisions have contacted Liberty Hill ISD about the possibilities, Hart said Rancho Sienna was the best choice at this time.

“Santa Rita had one (school site), too, but we felt like Rancho Sienna was further developed,” he said. “From the beginning, Newland Communities has been very proactive and positive about the potential for this school site, and we are very excited to be working with them.”

Hart said the new elementary school will be built to house 600-800 students.

A spokesperson for developer Newland Communities said the school site has a central location within the 550-acre master plan for Rancho Sienna, and will be linked to the projected 1,455 homes in the community by a network of trails and parks.

“When we envisioned what kind of community we wanted Rancho Sienna to be, having an onsite elementary school that children in the community could easily walk or ride their bikes to was at the top of our priorities,” said Bill Meyer, vice president and general manager of the Austin division of Newland Communities. “We are very excited and happy that the Liberty Hill ISD has chosen the school site we proposed in Rancho Sienna for their next elementary school.”

Hart said that while a 2017 opening might appear to be a lofty goal, an elementary school is much easier to build than a high school campus.

Hart said he believes school district voters understand that “there is a real need for additional primary school capacity in the district. For grades six and up, the district is in great shape, with our state-of-the-art high school and our expanded junior high campus.”

In 2010, Liberty Hill voters approved an $86 million bond package to build a new high school and athletic facilities. The bond package also paid for renovations and expansions at the other campuses, and the current administration building. Construction on the new high school, which opened in fall 2013, took two years, and Hart recalled that a lot of that time was spent negotiating with area providers on infrastructure issues.

“The infrastructure is already there (at Rancho Sienna) and the site is ready to go,” he said.

Hart added that one major feature of the new school will be the integration of the latest technology into every classroom.

LHISD recently hired a new Director of Instructional Technology whose job is to integrate learning technology districtwide.

In April, the Board of Trustees approved a contract with real estate broker Equitable Commercial Real Estate of Austin to market and sell the former administration building, located at 14001 SH 29. Hart said the company had experience representing school districts in the sale and purchase of real estate. In April, Hart said the firm believed it could take one year to sell the property on 1.33 acres, adding that commercial growth in Liberty Hill is not comparable yet to population growth.

Hart said that unlike the sale of privately-owned real estate, school district property must be sold through a bidding process.

He said the district has no potential buyers at this time, but bidding will close Sept. 1. If no serious bids are submitted by that time, the process will begin again.

This is the second attempt the district has made to sell the property. The first time, the City of Liberty Hill made an offer that was significantly less than the appraised value of $1 million. At that time, Hart said the state will not permit a school district to sell real estate below its appraised value.

Rancho Sienna opened in 2014 and has new homes priced from the $200,000s to $700,000s with a master plan that includes more than 100 acres of trails and parks.