Nearly 116,000 students will return to Cy-Fair ISD this fall, and many of them will be entering new schools for the first time. Bridgeland High School, Wells Elementary School, Hoover Elementary School and a replacement campus for Matzke Elementary School will open to students Aug. 28.
The new campuses were funded by the $807 million bond referendum passed by voters in 2007 and the $1.2 billion bond referendum passed in May 2014, which was approved by nearly 70 percent of voters.
Officials said the new schools were needed to accommodate growth within the district. According to the Texas Education Agency, the district had 91,889 students enrolled in 2007 and has gained nearly 24,000 more students in the last decade.
Superintendent Mark Henry said the 2007 bond referendum provided funds that were intended for two new high schools, but an economic downturn shortly after the bond referendum’s passage meant there was not enough money available to open those facilities on time.
“We’re actually still playing catch up,” he said. “Cy[press]Park and Bridgeland [high schools]probably should have opened about five years ago.”
Bridgeland’s New Schools
Bridgeland, the district’s 12th comprehensive high school, and Wells, the district’s 55th elementary campus, are some of the final projects being funded by CFISD’s 2007 bond referendum. They cost $140 million and $24.3 million, respectively.
Located on a 128-acre site between Mason Road and the Grand Parkway, the two schools and a future middle school will make up CFISD’s second education village, designed to create collaboration opportunities between each school. Cypress Park, which opened August 2016, was the first high school to anchor a future educational village.
When laying out the complex, Bridgeland’s 573,460-square-foot design took a vertical approach, said Roy Sprague, associate superintendent of facilities, construction and support services. The high school’s flexible four-story academic wing will be the first of its kind in the district. Each level will have an administrative suite, and school officials can plan to separate each grade by floor or incorporate another layout to meet the school’s needs.
A four-story atrium with flex space gives students a place to congregate, work together on projects and hold events. Sprague said college and corporate campuses inspired this design element.
“One of the other neat features by going four stories is it’s a lot easier for kids to go up 15-20 feet per floor to get to their designated classrooms versus trying to go horizontally 800-900 feet,” he said. “Hopefully that’ll decrease the amount of time of walking to their classes and increase our instructional time so our kids will be at their classes on time.”
About 1,200 ninth- and 10th-grade students will walk through the doors on the first day of school at Bridgeland, with an ultimate capacity of 3,500. On the same site, Wells has capacity for 1,100 students.
The four-story school was designed for 21st century learning—including flex spaces that allow teachers and students to incorporate more interactivity into the daily classroom experience. Bridgeland High Principal Michael Smith said while Bridgeland has state-of-the-art technology, students are also encouraged to bring their personal laptops, tablets and smartphones to school to use in the classroom.
“I want kids to get up in the morning and want to come to school,” he said. “I want them to feel like what they’re getting is valuable and going to help them in the future. We help them plan appropriately for what’s next in life, whether it’s freshman English to sophomore English or senior year to college, the military—whatever they want to do.”
Hoover Elementary School, CFISD’s 56th elementary campus, is set to open in August across from Jowell Elementary School and serve pre-K through second grade—a new concept in the district.
“We wanted to try that because eventually the state may fund early childhood education, and we want to see what works best if we ever build early childhood elementary schools,” Henry said. “We had this 15-acre plot of land next to Jowell Elementary and just said ‘Why don’t we make the attendance zone bigger and build a school on land we already own?’ which literally saves millions of dollars.”
Henry said population is still growing on the east side of Cy-Fair, which is more built-out than the west side. Population and Survey Analysts demographers report established neighborhoods like those in east Cy-Fair “regenerate” every 30-40 years when empty nesters relocate or downsize, and young families with children move in.
On Mills Road, a replacement campus for Matzke Elementary School students opens this school year as well, providing a modern facility for more students than the previous campus could accommodate. Its former home on Jones Road will be repurposed for Windfern High School to use starting next fall, said Linda Macias, associate superintendent of curriculum, instruction and accountability.
Windfern caters to students who choose an alternative learning environment, Macias said. Moving the campus could bring expansion opportunities, she said.
“We’ve talked about looking at different trades to offer at the Windfern School of Choice,” Macias said at an April board work session. “We know that the trades can provide students with an immediate skill job with a salary once they leave high school.”
Moving the school to Matzke will allow students from other high schools in the district to take classes there, and evening courses could be an option for students who already have full schedules during the day, Macias said.
The current Matzke site is about 75,000 square feet, while Windfern’s campus has about 50,000 square feet of space. The 2014 bond dedicated $12.1 million to the repurposing of Matzke’s facilities. Sprague said renovating the gymnasium and main building to accommodate the new programs would be the first phase of the project.
Across the street from Windfern’s current location, a new natatorium—an indoor swimming facility—will be ready for the 2017-18 school year. Part of a $42 million package included in Pridgeon Stadium renovations on Falcon Road, the natatorium will accommodate more than 1,000 visitors on the same site.
Renovations and additions were made at other district schools over the summer including Bane and Adam elementary schools and Watkins and Dean middle schools.
“Although we’re not going to be building as many new campuses as we have over the last 15 years, when you have 92 campuses, they constantly have to be updated with new roofs, new air conditioning and just modernization,” Henry said. “Just like your home—things break and have to be replaced. We’re just a larger version of your home.”
Henry said after these new campuses open in August, the district does not plan to open any new facilities until at least 2019. The next school to open will be a middle school at either Cypress Park’s or Bridgeland’s educational village site, depending on which area has more growth, he said.
Additionally, Henry said he projects another elementary school will be needed to accommodate growth in Bridgeland within another five or six years.
Since the start of 2017, CFISD has pursued agreements in land purchases near Cy-Fair High School and in Dunham Pointe, a new master-planned community planned for south of Hwy. 290 between Mueschke and Mason roads.
While there is no concrete plan for the 13-acre parcel officials are pursuing next to Cy-Fair High School, Dunham Pointe will be home to another multi-school educational village and potentially a new transportation center, Henry said. Plans for these new facilities were not included in the 2014 bond referendum, and funds would likely have to come from a future bond.
“As population moves west, Cy-Fair High School is almost the center of the district, so it’s a great place right off [Hwy.] 290 to have a district facility someday,” Henry said. “What that’ll be, we don’t know yet.”
Henry said he believes CFISD has been efficient with taxpayers’ money. Since passing the 2014 bond, he said the district was projected to have to raise the property tax rate by as much as 4.5 cents per $100 valuation, but the rate has dropped by one cent in that time.
Henry projects planning for the district’s next bond—a process that takes at least one year—will start in late 2018 or early 2019 depending on growth trends.
“We still probably in this district will grow another [20,000]-30,000 students,” Henry said. “To put that in perspective, 30,000 students is larger than all but about 30 school districts in the entire state. Although it’s not going to be growth like we’ve experienced over the last 15 years, it will steadily grow, which is exciting.”