Developers and school districts building symbiotic relationship

Lake Travis ISD receives land donation from Rough Hollow

School districts have always relied upon the kindness of strangers. Whether it be land donations, volunteers at sporting events and school functions, or monetary gifts, donations play a large role in Texas school districts.

Lake Travis ISD received some kindness through a 12-acre land donation for a future elementary school from Rough Hollow neighborhood builders Legend Communities on Oct. 30. This is one of several donations the district has received from builders offering land for schools within developments.

Land for the district's newest elementary school, West Cypress Hills, was donated in 2007 by developer Alan Topfer, and the land for Lake Pointe Elementary School in Bee Cave was donated by developer Don Walden in 1997.

"We have had a lot of luck with land donations [in LTISD]," Assistant Superintendent and General Counsel Susan Bohn said. "Developers have been very receptive. I've worked in districts in the past, and that is pretty common in high-growth areas, but we have struck out before."

Developers benefit

Although the land donated by Legand Communities to LTISD is valued at about $1.5 million, founder Haythem Dawlett said the return on investment is much greater.

"The more you can add that supplements people's lives, especially with schools for young children, the more you will draw people," he said.

Bohn said the fact LTISD is an exemplary school district only sweetens the pot.

"The fact is LTISD is attractive," she said. "Builders have a lot of competition all over the city, and to be able to say they are in [LTISD] is a big plus."

Both Dawlett and Bohn said the presence of an elementary school in a master-planned community is a big draw to buyers with small children.

"We also have a brand-new middle school [Lake Travis Middle School] at our front door [of the Rough Hollow development], and the demographics of our buyers is a perfect fit [for the two schools]," Dawlett said.

Homes at Rough Hollow range from $360,000 to more than $800,000, but Dawlett said a donation of land isn't just about making money. It is about a sense of community.

"When you are developing a quality neighborhood, it isn't complete without a school," he said. "Sometimes you just have to do the right thing."

Dawlett said the portion of land donated to LTISD is also larger than originally agreed upon and is on a flat surface to ease construction for the district.

"Hopefully they can proceed with the school as we build out the community," he said. "The quicker we build out, the quicker the construction goes away and everyone can enjoy the amenities of the neighborhood."

School districts benefit

Bohn said the district is always open to land donations because buildable land in the Lake Travis area is scare and the donation allows the district easier access to utilities.

When a developer agrees to donate land to the district, it does so with the understanding a campus, usually an elementary school, will be built, she said.

Even in the event donated parcels are in close proximity to each other, Bohn said the district isn't in a position to turn down land.

"Because buildable property is so scarce, we can't be too choosy," she said. "We are very grateful to work with Rough Hollow. There is a lot of growth out there, and it will help fill a need and serve our students. We would love for more developers to take the lead. We don't see [that type of generosity] all the time."

Planning ahead

Bohn said the district is very receptive to land donations but cannot expect developers to always be willing to give.

"It depends on the situation and the developer," she said.

Sometimes a developer will purchase a tract of land and reach out to the district to offer a donation, but other times the district will approach a developer, Bohn said.

Even with the knowledge that a developer wants to build and donate land to the district, plans change.

"We understand that they have a schedule to follow, but the design may still be in flux," Bohn said. "We just let the developer know what we would need to build a campus."

The district largely looks at the topography of the potential site as well as the access to water and wastewater, she said.

However, the development does not always come to fruition, and districts are sometimes left to fend for themselves.

"We would love to be able to buy all the land we will need right now, but to do that we would have to pass a bond," Bohn said. "We don't have that much money available."

LTISD hasn't purchased land since the 2006 bond resulted in funding for two middle school sites, including the new Lake Travis Middle School; one elementary school site; a second high school site; a transportation and distribution center site and a central events center site.

"We were lucky to have already gotten those [tracts of land]," Bohn said. "Land is getting more and more expensive by the day."

When purchasing land the district looks at demographics reports, which it receives every few years to keep up with the fast growth, Bohn said. The district has projections through about 2025 but will get a new update in January or February to help guide long-term planning.

Additional land purchases could be on the next bond the district puts to voters to help keep up with growth.

"It will be up for discussion," Bohn said. "We will probably be at nine elementary schools at some point."

The district currently has six elementary schools with a seventh planned for the Rough Hollow site.


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