Education Focus 2018: McNeil High School construction continues, remains on schedule despite discovery of caves and karst features

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Construction is in full swing on a major renovation at McNeil High School in Northwest Austin that is significantly changing the front of the school.

In the spring construction started on the last of several projects at McNeil being funded through Round Rock ISD’s 2014 bond for a new music wing with rooms for band, choir and orchestra as well as new administration offices and a main entrance. This work will be finished in December 2019, and by this November, work on the new special education wing will wrap up, RRISD Chief Operating Officer Terry Worchester said.

“The goal of the Phase 1 through the master plan is to bring some refreshed and improved art facilities, namely music, to redefine the school entry in an administration area and to expand the special education program,” he said. “SpEd here is very strong and accommodates a large number of students.”

Funding improvements

The school, which opened in 1987 at 5720 McNeil Drive, Austin, has been under construction with various projects since 2015. Other work in the $38.4 million budget includes a new agricultural facility; a new central plant for the heating, air conditioning and ventilation system; new water and wastewater lines; a marching band pad; and renovations to restrooms and the girls’ locker rooms.

Additional work for the next phase of construction could be funded if voters approve RRISD’s $508.4 million bond this November.

In 2017 voters turned down a bond that would have brought $30 million for the next phase.

On Aug. 20, RRISD board members approved placing the bond on the Nov. 6 ballot. The citizens bond committee, comprising more than 250 community volunteers, helped create a list of recommended projects for the bond. If approved, about $51.1 million would go toward the second phase of construction at McNeil and $1.47 million would fund improvements such as resurfacing the track and replacing the turf field.

The difference between the 2017 and 2018 bonds is that this year the district is hosting design charrettes with members of the public to decide how best to move forward with designing and constructing projects that would be funded if the 2018 bond passes as well as any future phases, Worchester said.

This includes rethinking how to add new science classrooms, renovate to the boys’ locker rooms and implement new career and technical education, or CTE, options that were not available in 2015 when the master plan was completed.

“Those are things that are still within that master plan intent, but it may be accomplished in a different way that was thought of in 2015,” Worchester said.

Environmental issues

At the start of construction, district staffers learned that McNeil did not have an environmental management plan that would help RRISD deal with known caves and karst features on the site. To date, 20 of these features, which include voids below ground, have been discovered and documented, Worchester said.

Because McNeil High School sits on the county line, the district joined the Williamson County Conservation Foundation as well as the Balcones Canyonland Conservation Plan managed by Travis County.

Worchester said most of the discovered karst features have been easy to manage, such as encasing concrete piers in plastic piping to avoid seepage or filling in small voids with gravel to maintain stability.

Despite the discovery of these karst features, Worchester said the schedule has only slipped a few weeks. This is because the district resequenced the order of construction for projects by building easier-to-complete work first, such as the new agricultural facility and renovations to the girls’ locker rooms.

“By and large the schedule is still in tact,” he said.

For more local education news, please see all of the local stories from our Education Focus edition.

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Amy Denney
Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area.
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