School district and city collaborate on planning, development
Leander will be an epicenter of growth during the next decade, demographic firm Population and Survey Analysts predicts.
The $80,000 report presented in October by the College Station–based group serves as an annual investment for the school district, said Ellen Skoviera, assistant superintendent of business and operations. Enrollment trends, planned housing developments and other data collected by the demographer help Leander ISD and the nine municipalities within it plan for growth.
"We determined a long time ago that it is actually money well-spent because if you don't do it right, you can overbuild and mis-hire," she said. "Having the best available information enables us to tailor our hiring and building to appropriate levels."
Though housing occupancy is expected to surge in Leander during the next 10 years, overall growth in school enrollment slowed to 3.1 percent in 2012, compared with 11.1 percent during Leander ISD's peak in 2005, according to the report.
Specifically, growth in kindergarten enrollment now comprises 7.45 percent of the entire district population—an all-time low in the past six years—compared to an 8.3 percent average for the state.
Since about 2009, fewer mortgages were available to young and first-time home buyers, who, if they are parents, typically have younger children enrolling in kindergarten and elementary grades, Skoviera said.
"The effect of the mortgage market had a big impact on the district, with families not being able to get as many low-interest mortgages as the market was used to. For the first time, we see kindergarten enrollment isn't getting larger; actually secondary [enrollment] is growing," she said. "But 3.1 percent growth overall is still growth."
The City of Leander and its extraterritorial jurisdiction represent a combined 47 percent of the projected new housing growth in the district, with 13,310 new housing units out of the 28,235 total expected in the next decade. Much of that new housing will be concentrated within eight Leander neighborhoods: Crystal Falls, Sarita Valley, Cold Springs, Benbrook Ranch, Mason Ranch, Crystal Falls West, Villages of Crystal Falls and Heritage Glen.
According to the report, about 36 percent of new Leander residences will be multifamily units, while the majority will be singlefamily homes. City Manager Kent Cagle said that although the city has limited zoning for multifamily housing, Leander's overall real estate market seems to be on the uptick as construction nears on 3,000 homes in the Crystal Falls West subdivision alone.
"In this calendar year, we'll have about 500–600 single-family permits," Cagle said, compared with about 1,200 in 2006 and as few as 250 at the city's most recent low in 2010. "There's not a lot of multifamily zoning in the city, except around the Transit-Oriented Development, but we would like to see a concentration there or a little along the tollway."
As the Leander housing market and population evolve during the next decade, Cagle said the city is preparing for growth by working with developers and the school district.
"We are putting infrastructure in place; that's the main thing we can do to prepare," he said. "We are working hard on utilities and roadways, finishing up the last of the 2007 bond and getting prepared for the next one, which is still a couple of years away. I think the vast majority is going to be transportation and basic streets and roadways."
The city uses LISD's demographic data and collaborates with district staff to manage growth and plan infrastructure, Cagle said. Most recently, the city solicited bids to improve and widen CR 179, which leads to the newly opened Stiles Middle School.
Superintendent Bret Champion said his staff will continue working with Leander and other city staffs to pace projected enrollment increases.
"There's this constant need for the two staffs to communicate, particularly in a district that continues to grow," he said. "Clearly, our future needs are going to lie a lot more in the City of Leander, just because that's where the growth is going to be."
According to the report, enrollment in LISD will support the construction of four elementary schools, a ninth middle school and two high schools by 2022. Preliminary drawings indicate six of the campuses are in or include part of Leander in enrollment, although no site has been named for Elementary School 28. Construction of High School 6 in 2015 or 2016 will likely coincide with renovations to Vandegrift High School. The board has not voted to open Reed Elementary School in Cedar Park.