Lone Star College calls for May bond election

Centers proposed at Creekside, Magnolia

To address its explosive enrollment growth, the Lone Star College System's bond election in May will include $102.2 million to expand its Tomball campus. The expansion involves building an 85,000 square-foot Creekside Center and, in a couple of years, a Magnolia Center.

Lone Star College System leaders have called for a $497.7 million bond referendum that will go to voters May 11. The college has had unprecedented growth in the past five years since the last bond referendum, adding 30,000 students, said Ray Laughter, LSCS's vice chancellor for external affairs. There are more than 90,000 students who attend LSCS's six campuses.

"What we've seen the last five years is nothing like we've ever seen," Laughter said. "We are having to look for ways to keep up with that growth."

The bond, called for in February, would address expansion needs at each of its six campuses without adding any additional tax increase for local taxpayers. The LSCS tax rate has remained the same at $0.1210 per $100 of property value for the last 15 years. LSCS is required by law to hold an election for the issuance of the bond.

"Because of our financial growth and stability, we are able to sell these bonds and pay them off with no change at all in the tax rate," Laughter said.

LSCS has already pushed its facilities to their capacity, increasing class sizes and encouraging students to take online classes.

"At some point you have to start adding more space, and that's really where we are now," Laughter said.

Health Science

One of the priorities for Lone Star's Tomball campus is to expand its health science building. The college plans to add 20,000 square feet of space on the top floor of the building to accommodate the growth in health care.

"Our emphasis at community colleges nationally is to really focus on increasing our graduation and completion into fields where graduates can get jobs right away," Laughter said. "Many of those are in science, technology and math."

Throughout the past several months, college administrators, community members and local business leaders took part in a multi-step process to determine which projects will be needed at each LSCS campus in the next few years. Lamar Casparis, chairman of the Tomball Chamber of Commerce, was on the review committee for the Tomball campus.

"There's a huge need for health care professionals, such as RN's, occupational therapists and techs," Lamar said. "They usually come from a community college. Health sciences is a major growth area."

The bond also includes money to build a new 60,000 square-foot student services and instructional building on the northwest side of the Tomball campus. The current student services building in the center of campus would be converted into classrooms and labs.

Creekside

If approved, Lone Star plans to start the design phase for Creekside immediately after the bond election and begin construction by the end of the year. The college expects to enroll between 3,000 to 4,000 students annually at Creekside, located in the fastest-growing and most-recently built village of The Woodlands. The center will be on the west side of Kuykendahl Road, just south of The Woodlands Fire Department Station No. 7, which is located at 26722 Kuykendahl Road.

"The population is already there," Laughter said. "We believe it will be at capacity not long after it opens, with the growth that we see there."

In planning the location of the Creekside campus, LSCS officials took expected growth brought on by a new 385-acre ExxonMobil campus into account. ExxonMobil is moving 10,000 employees to its new campus near the intersection of I-45 and the Hardy Toll Road, just south of The Woodlands, beginning in 2014.

Magnolia Center

The bond would also pay for an 85,000-square-foot Magnolia Center with 650 parking spots to be built sometime in the next two to three years.

"With the growth and expansion of the new highway, that is a logical next growth pattern for us," Laughter said. "We want to be ready as people move further out, toward Magnolia. It's a high growth area."

The new Magnolia Center would be coming at a time when Hwy. 249 is being expanded into a toll road, and the City of Magnolia is about to complete it's 15- to 20-year comprehensive plan for growth and development.

"Having a Lone Star College here for our students and our community close to home is going to be huge," said Deborah Rose Miller, Magnolia's economic development coordinator. "We are already making plans. When our community sees the state-of-the-art campus, it's going to take everybody's believability to a whole new level."

Lone Star already offers dual credit courses with both Tomball and Magnolia Independent School Districts through the district's high schools.

Bond details

As Highway 249 is expanded, it will cut-off an entrance to the LSC–Tomball campus. The bond would pay for the construction of a new entrance. The money would also pay for 300 additional parking spaces at the Tomball campus.

The nearly $500 million in proposed bond money is divided between LSCS's six campuses—CyFair, Tomball, University Park, Montgomery, North Harris and Kingwood. The bond includes improved campus security and safety through the Lone Star College System and new workforce training facilities. The referendum would add 996,000 square feet of instructional and support building space and possibly cover the renovation of 252,000 square feet of existing space. The bond money will only be used for construction and not operating expenses, according to LSCS.

Early voting for the bond election will last from April 29–May 7. Election day is May 11.

With reporting by Marie Leonard