As work begins on upcoming Ninth-Grade Center, Hutto ISD facing budget hurdles

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Before any construction on the facade of Hutto ISD’s upcoming ninth-grade center has begun, district officials say they are already faced with likely future budget cuts for the building itself.

HISD Assistant Superintendent of Operations Henry Gideon told the board of trustees in February construction bids for the ninth-grade center, to be located at the southeast corner of N. FM 1660 and CR 100, came in over budget.

“Construction inflation pricing has been very disappointing,” Gideon told Community Impact Newspaper March 4. “We are doing some value engineering in the hopes of getting our construction budget back in line.”

Trustees in September 2018 voted to sell the remaining $54.9 million of the district’s 2008 bond money to fund construction of the ninth-grade center. Gideon said HISD’s budget for the new school is set at $48.51 million. The gap between those two numbers is money set aside for soft costs, or non-construction services such as consultants, furniture for the school or right of way improvements. 

Bids that came in for the district in February totaled $50 million before soft costs. Trustees approved the first bid package for preliminary work for $16.64 million, but the district will send a bid back out for the agriculture barn and construction of the building.

Early designs for the ninth-grade center, which will eventually expand into the district’s second high school, included a three-building campus with an agriculture barn and outdoor athletic facilities.

Gideon now says those athletic facilities—a football field, a track, lighting, concessions, bleachers and space for other outdoor sports—will be removed from the first round of construction. He estimates that will shave $1.8 million off the budget. Other cuts include transitioning to a less expensive heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, or HVAC, in the the ninth-grade center.

District officials have also made cuts to the design of the agriculture barn.

“We will still have pens and instructional spaces for the [agriculture]students and their animals, but we’ve temporarily removed the show barn,” Gideon said.

Despite the expected budget cuts, construction on the ninth-grade center is underway, and the district fully expects to hit its timeline.

With the $16.64 million approved in February, crews are currently working on foundation, utilities, stormwater systems, drainage and moving earth, according to Gideon. Work began on the site in mid-February.

Gideon says the board will vote on the second and final bid package for the ninth-grade center later this spring. That bid package will include the entire school building and the agriculture barn. This second bid will also establish the guaranteed maximum price, or the cap on the budget the district will pay its contractors to finish the school.

District officials say the ninth-grade center will open its doors to an estimated 600-700 freshmen students in the 2021 spring semester.

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Iain Oldman
Iain Oldman joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after spending two years in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he covered Pittsburgh City Council. His byline has appeared in PublicSource, WESA-FM and Scranton-Times Tribune. Iain worked as the reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition and is now working as the reporter for Northwest Austin.
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