Photo by Joe Olivieri
District may build specialty facility to better serve community
This fall, Austin ISD will discuss purchasing land for a proposed new high school in South Austin.
The district has done preliminary site research and inquired about listed and unlisted properties south of Ben White Boulevard, AISD Executive Director of Facilities Paul Turner said.
Before serious negotiations can begin, a south high school planning team must decide whether South Austin would be better served by a comprehensive high school or a specialty school, such as a magnet school, Turner said.*
Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said the project is in development and being vetted. The district will seek out feedback from parents, community members and staff.
Voters approved $32 million for the land purchase as part of the 2008 bond referendum.
The district included the purchase in its 2013–14 list of Annual Academic and Facilities Recommendations, or AAFRs.
Board trustee Robert Schneider said the land purchase and eventual construction of a new high school would help relieve Bowie High School, which was built in 1988.
“Bowie High School is dramatically overcrowded and has been frozen to transfers for 15 years at least,” he said. “The folks that go to Austin High School have to fight the MoPac battle up and down every day.”
District and facility needs
Schneider cited the rapid enrollment growth of Bowie High School’s vertical team, the elementary and middle schools that feed into it.
“The districtwide average growth was 8 percent. Akins High School in Southeast Austin is 8 percent. Bowie is 45 percent,” he said. “We are talking about hundreds and hundreds of kids that are enrolled in those feeder schools, and at some point, they’re going to need to go to a high school.
“Bowie, as of [Sept. 6], had more than 2,900 kids attending a school that was built for a capacity of 2,450, so it’s in dramatic need of relief,” he continued.
A specialty school would have a smaller effect on relieving Bowie’s enrollment numbers.
A specialty school may draw students districtwide and reduce travel time for local students commuting to magnet schools farther north, Turner said.
Schneider noted that some Southwest Austin students board buses before 6:30 a.m. to attend school at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy in North Austin.
A specialty school could take many forms—such as a science academy or an international baccalaureate program, Turner said.
An academy with a medical focus that could partner with an Austin medical school, Carstarphen said. A college preparatory school on an Austin Community College campus has also been discussed.
AISD trustees have suggested that a specialty school might be more affordable than a comprehensive high school, Schneider said.
“My personal preference would be that maybe we can’t afford [a comprehensive school] right now, but we do build in some relief [in the form of a specialty school], and we build something we can expand later when we can afford it,” he said. “We don’t preclude expansion capabilities, which is something I don’t think some people realize.”
The planning team is scheduled to meet during the fall. The decision of which type of school would best serve South Austin will have an effect on what properties AISD will seek to purchase, Turner said. The district’s facility master plan includes a site selection process for new schools (see graphic).
Regardless of use, the property will need to be close to major roads and preferably not along the edges of the district, he said. Environmental regulations and the amount of acceptable impervious cover—covered areas where rain cannot reabsorb into the ground—will also play a role, he said.
Chief Operations Officer Lawrence Fryer Jr. said the AISD board of trustees will discuss preliminary scenarios for the recommendations Oct. 1 and 8.
The board will examine draft scenarios Nov. 12 and Dec. 3 and is scheduled to take action on all 2013–14 recommendations Dec. 17.
At this point, the district has only done preliminary inquiries; it would not be unusual if the district looked into a whole new group of properties, Turner said.
A draft 10-year academic and facility master planning timeline on AISD’s website states that completing the land acquisition process has been penciled in through 2016–17.
Purchasing the land is only the first step toward a new high school.
Turner said the district does not have the money to build a new high school, and it would have to be considered for a bond referendum in 2013 or 2018.
It usually takes three years to build a high school, Turner said.
*In the print version of the article, a single-sex academy was listed as a possible use for a new South Austin high school. A single-sex academy is being considered at other sites as part of a different AAFR, according to AISD.