Friendswood ISD leaders and partnering architects have made progress in development for the new Cline Elementary School campus after touring various facilities and consulting stakeholders of all ages for feedback.

FISD issued its bonds from the November election Jan. 27. Based on the resulting interest cost being significantly lower than expected, the projected tax impact of the bond on the debt service tax rate will be considerably lower than the $0.10 approved by voters, according to a media release from the district’s business department.

The bond funds will be used for $128 million worth of construction, safety and technology projects, including replacement of the existing Cline campus. The Cline project kicked off Nov. 30, and benchmarking tours, programming meetings and district standards meetings have taken place since. Officials with Houston-based PBK Architects presented benchmarking tour and meeting results Jan. 25 after two intensive design meetings in early January.

After touring elementary campuses around Texas and surveying teachers and students, district leaders and architects compiled a list of common desired characteristics for the new facility. Superintendent Thad Roher said walking through campuses and seeing how other educational institutions are using their space was a very powerful experience.

Officials gleaned from building tours that the idea of a more open-concept library called a “learning commons” would be worth exploring further.

“That really opened up our minds to the possibilities,” Roher said of seeing schools with open-concept learning commons spaces.

Some opportunities for improvement as defined by teachers include more options for flexibility and personalization of both classrooms and furniture as well as different options for collaboration. Some of these desires could be met with the learning commons space; other campuses officials found attractive included ones with multilevel common areas.

Other similar desired themes include the use of natural-looking materials and glass on exterior-facing walls. Students also drew floor plans, and officials used those to see which spaces students seemed to be most excited about based on which spaces they drew taking up the most of the floor plan. These included cafeterias, gymnasiums and libraries.

The current Cline floor plan allows for collaboration between teachers, ensuring both a close physical proximity to those in the same grade levels and adding collaboration spaces for this same purpose, officials said.

PBK continues to meet with Executive Director of Maintenance and Operations Erich Kreiter weekly to compose and refine the district’s standards as they relate to elements of the construction process. West Ranch subdivision developers have been invited to participate in the process as well so FISD can keep developers informed and seek their feedback, but the developers have not engaged in the process thus far, Roher said.

Some considerations for the campus came from lessons learned during the pandemic. COVID-19 and its limitations on educational experiences highlighted the need for consideration of an outdoor amphitheater in addition to an outdoor learning environment or outdoor classroom space. Outdoor learning and exploration is equally as important as the indoor spaces for young learners, trustees and architects said. One element discussed for new playgrounds included movable pieces, which would rotate between campuses and give students new places to play.

One facet of the outdoor learning environment could eventually include gardens, but FISD officials agreed the establishment of those would need to come later as they must be a sustained, campuswide commitment—not something taken on by one or even several enthusiastic parents or community members—to be truly successful.

Bond funds will also be used for classroom additions to Westwood Elementary, Windsong Intermediate and Bales Intermediate schools. Spaces at Westwood should be transformed with these same ideas of open space, collaboration and flexible learning environments, especially to maintain a sense of equity between the two campuses, trustee Laura Seifert said.

“We want it to drive out what's next for Westwood, Bales, when the time comes,” she said of the new campus, adding it will serve as a model for innovation across other district spaces and uphold the expectation of FISD providing the best experiences to students. “That's what we love about Friendswood is parents want the very best for their kids.”