Richardson ISD officials say three of four multipurpose activity centers will be ready for use by the end of 2019, opening up more practice space for athletics and fine arts.
With the implementation of 2016 bond dollars, RISD will be able to join the ranks of school districts that offer multipurpose activity centers, which are the norm at most North Texas high schools, according to RISD Athletics Director Leslie Slovak.
The facilities funded as part of the district’s $437 million bond program will not only accommodate enrollment growth but also support increased student involvement in extracurriculars, Slovak said. The ability to practice despite severe weather will also allow RISD to better compete with other districts.
“It puts us on a level playing field,” Slovak said. “We feel like we are playing catch-up and have been playing catch-up for some time.”
At the halfway mark of its five-year bond cycle, RISD has made significant headway on most of the large-scale capital projects, including the three 80,000-square-foot centers.
“We are on target to meet all construction projects that were included in the 2016 bond,” Assistant Superintendent Sandra Hayes said.
DELIVERING THE ACTIVITY CENTERS
Multipurpose activity centers at Berkner, Richardson and J.J. Pearce high schools are well underway, Executive Director of Facilities Michael Longanecker said.
Construction of a fourth center at Lake Highlands High School was postponed to coincide with a large-scale classroom addition. That project began this year and will likely wrap up in 2020.
Each multipurpose activity center was priced at $15 million, but in 2017 the board approved up to $2 million more per center when 8,000-square-foot boys’ and girls’ locker rooms were added at each site, Hayes said.
The original plan was to build two centers at a time. But in an era of increasing steel costs, RISD staff decided it would be most cost-effective to construct three centers simultaneously, Longanecker said.
“The cost of construction is the highest I’ve ever seen it in 40 years,” he said. “It’s also the hottest I’ve ever seen it in terms of the availability of subcontractors and manpower. We are paying premiums in wages just to get people to show up for a job.”
LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD
Once complete the centers will house athletics, fine arts, cheerleading and dance. Coaches offices, meeting rooms, a training area, a weight room and storage space are also planned at each center.
RISD sports teams and marching bands took a noticeable hit at competitions in 2018 after historic levels of rain put a dent in practice opportunities, Slovak said.
“Our coaches are frustrated because they work hard to have practice plans,” she said. “If [practice]is impacted by weather, it absolutely impacts performance.”
The centers will also offer coverage during extreme heat and lightning. And while access to an indoor practice facility does not guarantee success, it helps, Slovak said.
“Everyone was behind the eight ball, whether it was athletics or fine arts,” she said. “This doesn’t fix everything, but it gets us a whole lot closer and gives us a chance.”
The district competes with its neighbors not only in sports but also in attracting students. Slovak said the centers raise RISD’s stock with prospective families.
“When new families move into the Metroplex, they shop facilities when they are looking at schools,” she said. “Extracurriculars are very important to families looking for opportunities for their kids.”
But centers are not exclusive to children enrolled in extracurriculars, Fine Arts Director Jeff Bradford said. Meeting rooms can be used by student groups, and the turf field can be sectioned off for events and other uses.
“This will be one of if not the largest facility on campus that will impact the most amount of kids,” he said. “You can use it as a performer, as an athlete or as a student earning an education.”
As of Feb. 8, the district had spent $252.6 million of the $437 million bond package approved by voters in 2016, according to Chief Financial Officer David Pate. Passage of the bond increased the district’s debt service tax rate by $0.05, which added about $100 per year in property taxes for a home valued at $250,000.
While the multipurpose activity centers were the most expensive capital projects, they made up only about 14 percent of the total bond cost. Richardson High underwent a three-story classroom addition in 2018 as well as an exterior face-lift of the auditorium, a library renovation and mechanical upgrades. At Pearce, the library was overhauled to include new furniture, lighting and bookshelves.
Elementary school projects included classroom additions at Yale and Mark Twain. At the junior high schools, mechanical systems, such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning, were improved.
Perhaps the most significant project kicking off this year is the renovation of Lake Highlands High School. The project includes the consolidation of three cafeterias; the addition of a city-mandated, two-story storm shelter; a new wing for career and technical education; and a new library. On Dec. 3 RISD trustees approved a guaranteed maximum price of $61 million for the project.
A NEW ELEMENTARY SCHOOL?
The possibility of a new elementary school to address overcrowding in Lake Highlands was debated during the lead-up to the bond election.
Much of RISD’s enrollment growth can be linked to new residential projects popping up in the Dallas portion of the district, Director of Communications Tim Clark said.
The district’s enrollment in school year 2018-19 is 39,109 students. According to a density map provided by Population and Survey Analysts, RISD has a greater number of students per square mile than any other school district in North Texas.
Rather than build a school and create new attendance boundaries, the district opted instead to add onto White Rock Elementary School.
“People move into these neighborhoods so their kids can go to the school they went to, so there is significant resistance to changing school boundaries,” Clark said.
Still, the possibility of a new elementary school is always on the table, Hayes said. This idea could be revisited with the next bond package.
PLANNING FOR THE NEXT BOND
Most of the remaining projects in the bond involve improving electrical and mechanical systems, Hayes said.
District officials will also study reports they say will inform planning for the next bond, tentatively planned to go before voters in 2021.
A comprehensive facilities audit, something that has not been done in almost 20 years, will begin this year. Also scheduled is an updated demographer’s report, which in tandem with the facilities audit will give insight into capacity projections. A capacity study in October has already revealed a need for classroom additions at Pearce and Brentfield Elementary School.