South Austin residents speak up about high school land purchase

At the Austin ISD board of trustees' May 19 meeting, a few residents spoke up during citizens communication about the need to build a new high school in South Austin—as well as where to put it.

Some attendees told the board they want the proposed high school to be built in the Dove Springs neighborhood, which includes part of the 78744 ZIP code. Donna Hagey, executive director of The Austin Project, which manages the family resource center at Mendez Middle School, noted that area is projected to see major growth in the next few years.

"In a very short time, that area is really going to be significantly impacted in terms of an increase in population of youth that needs to have a place in their community that they can call a high school," she said.

On the other hand, Southwest Austin resident Mark Scholz said there is room to build further west, which would help to alleviate severe overcrowding at Bowie High School.

"The population growth plus the amount of large developments emerging in the southwest area make it imperative a new high school be built in the western region [of South Austin]," he said. "The projections for this area have been woefully inaccurate. If yet another high school is built in southeast Austin, the easternmost boundary of Bowie's attendance zone could not be moved over enough to make a significant reduction in population and keep Bowie inside its zone."

Scholz said his community was happy to see the south high school addressed in the district's facility master plan.

"It's clear there's an urgent need to address the overcrowding issue," he said.

Attendee Isabel Rios cited several overcrowded elementary schools in her area and said she thinks the school should be constructed in the southeast quadrant of the district.

"I know that the Bowie parents are very concerned," she said. "Our kids are the ones that are putting their schools over capacity. The last time that a school was constructed on the east side of I-35 was 50 years ago. If we compare the numbers we are going to see that our east side has not received what it needs."

In 2008, voters approved $32 million in bond funds for a land purchase for the site of a proposed high school in south Austin. In 2013 AISD held community meetings about academic programming for the school—a decision that must be made before the district can build a campus.

Trustee Robert Schneider said the board still needs to have a discussion about the academic programming for the school and noted that building the structure is a long way off, considering the district's budget woes.

"Everybody needs to be very clear that we're only talking about land. We don't have funds to build a school," he said.

At a recent committee meeting, there was a suggestion to build a web page about the proposed school to keep community members updated on the status of the project and informed about its history, he said.

"I think getting good clean data out as to what the numbers really are would help a lot in getting all of South Austin—whether it's east, west or in between—really up to speed on what we're looking at in terms of making some kind of decision, hopefully in the near term, about what we're going to do to address the land purchase," Schneider said.

By Kelli Weldon
Kelli joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter and has been covering Southwest Austin news since July 2012. She was promoted to editor of the Southwest Austin edition in April 2015. In addition to covering local businesses, neighborhood development, events, transportation and education, she is also the beat reporter covering the Travis County Commissioners Court.


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