Pflugerville ISD and City Council meet to explore options for site
As students and parents in Pflugerville were counting down the final days until the school year began, Pflugervile ISD trustees and City Council members convened a special meeting to talk about one thing—how to plan for the city’s next high school.
The Aug. 21 meeting came on the heels of PISD pulling out of a $5.49 million land purchase—land that school officials say is necessary to build a new, $90 million high school in rapidly expanding East Pflugerville.
In April, PISD Superintendent Charles Dupre announced the district would call for a May 2013 bond election to cover construction costs. On July 26, PISD finalized plans to purchase 149 acres of land along Weiss Lane.
“The Weiss Lane tract meets all of our needs,” PISD Chief Financial Director Kenneth Adix said in a statement in August.
Currently, those needs are in Travis County, where most land sits outside of city limits but within the extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ. Templeton Demographics, a consulting firm contracted by PISD to analyze enrollment projections through 2021–22, tracks rates for new single-family homes and multifamily apartments. Bob Templeton, Templeton president, said most of the housing demand occurring throughout Pflugerville is east of Toll 130.
“The (Toll 130) boom is really starting to gain a lot of traction,” Templeton said. “It affects the schools.”
Subdivisions such as Falcon Pointe in northeast Pflugerville are home to many PISD families. The site has 878 occupied homes and is on track to sell an additional 100 homes by year’s end. Vaike O’Grady, marketing director for Falcon Pointe, said planning is under way for an additional 400–500 single-family homes and a multifamily unit.
With new homeowners and new families comes new students. In the past 12 years, five schools—Hendrickson High School, Kelly Lane Middle School, and Murchison, Riojas and Rowe Lane elementary schools—were built to meet enrollment demands in the region, with Cele Middle School set to become the sixth in 2013.
With rising housing starts and enrollments concentrated in the region, schools such as Hendrickson High School are feeling the crunch. Enrollment is expected to reach 2,835 by 2015–16, putting the school over capacity. Officials said those numbers prompted the call for the bond election and the move forward to purchase the Weiss property.
Road improvement bonds
When city officials learned of the school land purchase, some questioned what the costs to the city would be. At a City Council workshop Aug. 14, Pflugerville City Manager Brandon Wade said road improvements to Pflugerville Parkway and Pecan Street—estimated at more than $18 million—would be needed to make the new school accessible. Wade said if PISD asked for a bond in May, the city should call for a bond at the same time to pay for the roads.
“I don’t think it is fair to the voters to ask them to build a school without the city coming in to say (we) also need these roadways to be built,” Wade said.
Wade said wherever the school goes, road construction needs to be a top priority. Wade said roadways feeding into Hendrickson High School are just now getting necessary improvements.
“I don’t want to get behind the curve like we did with Hendrickson,” Wade said.
Wade said the possibility of Travis County funding the roads was possible, and that PISD should bear some portion of the cost.
“My concern is that the county likely does not have the funds to build an urban section roadway without going out for a bond again,” Wade said.
Pflugerville Mayor Jeff Coleman said calling for a bond when some residents face raises from five taxing entities was not to be taken lightly.
“[They] could be looking at a 20–25 cent increase at the same time,” Coleman said. “If one entity does something, it is going to have an affect on the other.”
At the meeting with PISD, Coleman said one of the challenges with east side growth is much of the land is in the ETJ and outside the city’s taxing district.
“We would be building a lot of roads for people ... who would not be citizens of Pflugerville,” Coleman said.
Councilman Brad Marshall asked if the district had explored the viability of other land choices.
The school district owns more than 300 acres of land in the area, including 98 acres on Cameron Road and 138 acres on Cele Lane where the district is set to open its next middle school. While new high schools at both sites could alleviate pressure on Hendrickson High School, distance and roadwork make them even less desirable.
“The city wouldn’t even consider the notion (of building roads out that far),” Wade said of the Fuchs Lane property.
Some council members want the district to postpone building a new school. Marshall asked if the district could expand Hendrickson High School by constructing new on-site facilities.
“At least it buys us another two years,” Marshall said.
Dupre said parents object to the idea of bigger, and often more crowded, schools.
“The community often feels like their children’s opportunities are limited,” Dupre said. “They start feeling like a number. That kind of decision really is a community-based decision.”
Rezoning the district to shift the balance to other schools was another option discussed to alleviate enrollment demands.
According to district documents, John B. Connally High School, which has a capacity of 2,475 students, is projected to have 2,044 students for the 2012–13 school year. By 2015-16, the same year that Hendrickson High School’s enrollment is expected to exceed capacity by nearly 200, Connally’s enrollment is projected to remain at 2,044—much less than its maximum capacity.
Melody Ryan, a PISD parent who was at the Aug. 21 meeting, said rezoning should be considered as an option before calling for a bond.
“(A portion of the growth area) could be rezoned to Connally,” Ryan said. “That could delay the need for a new high school until fall of 2017.”
PISD spokeswoman Amanda Brim said redistricting is a matter PISD takes seriously, and moving boundaries on a short-term basis is considered impractical.
“We try to minimize the number of times students are asked to change schools,” Brim said.
PISD and the City Council will hold semiannual meetings to discuss future growth and present a statement regarding possible school locations. Wade said the city will provide a cost and impact report for potential sites, including Weiss Lane. Wade said ultimately the decision on where to place the school belongs to PISD, and no matter where it goes, the city will likely incur associated costs.
“I think from a city standpoint, we will always be in a reactive mode,” Wade said. “There are always elements that we need to consider.”