Willis ISD Superintendent Tim Harkrider said the district is outpacing its enrollment projections, adding 600 students this fall for 7% enrollment growth from the 2020-21 school year. WISD was projected to see 4% enrollment growth, he said.
As such, Harkrider said the district’s long-term planning committee began meeting in November to determine the need for a bond package to fund new facilities, such as a third middle school. With two more committee meetings in January, the committee is poised to make its recommendation to the board of trustees in February—which must vote to call a bond election no later than Feb. 18 for the May 7 ballot.
“I think one of the most glaring things from our demographics report ... is our capacities at our middle schools,” Harkrider said.
While the district is eyeing a spring bond package, projects funded by the $100.15 million bond referendum in 2020 continue. Harkrider said he anticipates the 2020 bond projects to be completed over the next three years, including a new pre-K center estimated to open in August and gyms added to four elementary schools.
An April demographic study from Population and Survey Analysts anticipates 71.6% enrollment growth from the 2021-22 school year to 2030-31, totaling more than 14,500 students in WISD in 10 years.
Harkrider said the southwest portion of the district is seeing the most growth. He said a third middle school will be needed by the 2024-25 school year as the demographic study predicts Brabham Middle School will exceed 120% capacity in the 2025-26 school year.
Despite two school additions voters approved in 2015 and 2020 bond packages, Harkrider said another middle school will be needed. Voters approved a 250-student addition to Brabham Middle School in 2015 and a 300-student addition to Lucas Middle School in 2020, Harkrider said.
Harkrider said the property has been purchased for a third middle school off of Longmire Road with funds from the 2015 bond. The site is about a mile north of Lagway Elementary School, which opened in August.
A potential 2022 bond package may also address capacity issues at the football stadium, which was built in 1974.
“This year our last two home football games we had to cap the number of tickets we could sell because we were overcapacity on the home side. And with the growth of our district, more and more people are going to continue to come to the games, so having more seating capacity is something we’ve got to look at,” Harkrider said.
Harkrider said he believes Yates Stadium is one of the last remaining concrete-pillar stadiums in the state, which requires a structural review every three years and often costly repairs. In addition, he said a stadium expansion is limited since it is located close to Lucas Middle School.
“That facility is not going to last forever based on the foundation and the structure of how things were built up 47 years ago,” he said. “Some of the things the committee has to think about is does a renovation there make sense—being two years without a stadium [and] not being able to build it as large as you think you need for future growth.”
In addition, Harkrider said an upcoming bond could also include an aquatic center; WISD swimming and diving students have to travel to Shenandoah for morning practices. He said the aquatic center could also serve the community by offering swimming lessons.
“There is nothing up here in the northern part of the county for our kids to have access to,” Harkrider said. “It would also be an opportunity for us to provide swimming lessons, water aerobics, things for our community, especially with the YMCA in Conroe closing a few years ago.”