The development of a new learning model, aging buildings and enrollment growth have been guiding influences for Georgetown ISD as the district has undertaken a makeover of more than half of its facilities and built two new schools since voters approved a $160.6 million bond package in November 2015.
Construction work funded through the bond package started in March 2016 and is expected to wrap up by early 2019, district officials said.
“Most of [the projects]are bringing our schools up to the current learning model that we’re instituting in Georgetown ISD,” said David Biesheuvel, executive director of facilities and construction.
GISD refers to its new instructional model as “blended learning,” Biesheuvel said. The teaching method emphasizes collaboration and project-based learning among students.
Biesheuvel said the design of the district’s new schools built with bond funds, as well as renovations to existing campuses, reflect GISD’s initiative.
“You’re going to see a lot more open spaces where we can have flexible uses for collaboration,” Biesheuvel said. “Rooms have walls that move and open up so you can join classes together or divide them to make smaller [spaces]. With more flexibility with space, teachers can focus better on students’ individual needs instead of teaching the whole class the same thing.”
New schools for a new age
The design concepts of GISD’s new schools, Purl Elementary School and Wagner Middle School, break from traditional design, Biesheuval said.
“We want to create the best environment possible to allow those teachers to excite those kids, to inspire them,” Biesheuvel said.
The new $27 million campus for the future Wagner Middle School, which is being built at 1621 Rockride Lane, Georgetown, is slightly behind schedule, but it should open later in fall, possibly in late November, GISD spokesperson Suzanne Marchman said.
The original Purl Elementary, built in the 1930s, had reached the end of its useful life as a school campus, Biesheuvel said.
The new $31.4 million Purl campus, which opened in August at 1700 Laurel St., Georgetown, was designed to pay homage to the city’s downtown Square.
The school’s library, located in the center of campus, is modeled after the Williamson County Courthouse. The hallways that border the library are meant to represent the four streets that surround the courthouse in downtown Georgetown. Images of downtown storefronts on the square are shown on the glass walls of classrooms adjacent to the library.
Teachers and students have responded well to the new campus’s aesthetics, Principal Denisse Baldwin said.
“Although the school pays homage to historical Georgetown, we actually have a lot of innovative design elements,” she said.
Throughout the school, glass walls allow views into classrooms from hallways, a design element that helps teachers and students take advantage of the district’s collaborative learning model, Baldwin said.
Construction on the new school is still finishing up, but Purl students began attending classes at the start of the 2017-18 school year Aug. 17. All construction work should be complete by the end of September, Biesheuvel said.
Although athletic facilities are up and running at the new $27 million Wagner Middle School, the school’s future students began their school year in the former Williams Elementary School facility at 507 E. University Ave.
Similar to the new elementary school, Wagner’s campus features an open design concept and collaboration space.
Existing campus upgrades
Bond funds also made it possible for existing GISD facilities to receive much-needed renovations.
Georgetown High School has needed renovations for years, Biesheuvel said. The district began updating the school with money from a 2010 bond. But with some parts of the campus still in need of upgrades, district officials knew they would need another bond to fund additional renovations.
In the 2015 bond, GISD dedicated $23.4 million to renovate classrooms and science labs within the school’s north and south wings. The bond also funded upgrades to the school’s art, band, career and technology, and athletic facilities.
Biesheuvel expects the last portion of renovation at the high school to be complete by the end of September.
At Tippit Middle School, GISD has built new facilities for band, orchestra and other programs. The district has also upgraded the school’s administrative center.
Half of the classrooms on campus were renovated over the summer, and the remaining classrooms will be updated in summer 2018. A new cafeteria is under development, and once it is complete the district will begin additions for special education facilities and teacher design labs.
Renovations to Tippit are funded with $26.1 million from the 2015 bond.
The 2015 bond also allocated $4.8 million toward land acquisition for future district growth. In July, the GISD board of trustees voted to purchase 79 acres of land for two future elementary schools and other uses. The new land includes three tracts located throughout the district.
In early August, GISD announced 17.7 of those acres were located in Wolf Ranch, and will be the site of a new elementary school. At press time, the district had not announced locations of the two remaining sections of land, although officials said previously that 38.5 acres would be in the northwest portion of the district and 22.8 acres would be in the southeast portion.
The last of the projects funded by the bond is the renovation of the former Williams Elementary School into the new administrative hub of the district, which is expected to start in January, Biesheuvel said.
District officials estimate the cost of the project will be about $14.8 million.
Biesheuvel said he believes the pace of construction for GISD’s bond-funded projects has been exceptionally speedy, noting that nine of the district’s 16 campuses, including its new schools, received some type of renovation this summer.
“[The bond affected] the whole district. It wasn’t focused on one area or one group of kids. It touches everybody,” he said.