A community committee charged with evaluating Waco Independent School District’s facility needs beyond the next decade heard recommendations on elementary schools that include closing Alta Vista Elementary School and renovating or replacing two neighboring schools.
Representatives of Austin architectural firm O’Connell Robertson suggested to Waco ISD Community Advisory Committee members Monday night that expanding Kendrick Elementary School and South Waco Elementary School and closing Alta Vista could start to address the district’s need to improve its aging elementary school campuses. Alta Vista’s attendance zone is flanked by the other two South Waco campuses, and those schools would absorb Alta Vista’s students.
The proposal, however, only addresses three of eight elementary schools designated as needing renovations or new buildings, raising questions from some committee members. Others said they wonder if the growing number of suggested building projects could surpass the district’s ability to pay for them through bond sales.
In meetings earlier this spring, committee members seemed to favor building a new Waco High School on its current campus, at a potential price tag of more than $140 million, and replacements for G.W. Carver and Tennyson middle schools, which could cost up to between $130 million and $150 million. Plans for future meetings include more consideration of elementary schools and a look at all the proposed projects in relation to each other.
An O’Connell Robertson study estimates maintenance and mechanical system replacement costs for all 14 of the district’s elementary schools through the year 2031 could cost from $190 to $210 million. Replacing or renovating Kendrick and South Waco could cost $50 million to $75 million with savings from the closing of Alta Vista, compared to maintenance costs of $25 million to $35 million for the three schools.
The district’s current elementary school student capacity should cover needs to 2031, outside of Kendrick and Parkdale Elementary School, which are already over capacity, according to the study. It also states six of the district’s 14 elementary schools have been built or renovated in the past 20 years.
Elementary schools identified with minor to moderate needs include West Avenue Elementary School, Provident Heights, Brook Avenue, Dean Highland, J.H. Hines, Bell’s Hill and Lake Air Montessori School. Those listed with moderate to significant needs, requiring new buildings or renovations over time, include Crestview, Alta Vista, Cedar Ridge, Mountainview, South Waco, Parkdale, Kendrick and Hillcrest.
The recommendation to close Alta Vista and divide its attendance zone among two neighboring schools raised concerns from some committee members. Nancy Alvarado said the possible closure of Alta Vista is disheartening. Josh Caballero said the building, part of which dates to 1919, needs attention, but he does not like the prospect of closing the school.
Hazel Rowe, a longtime Waco ISD administrator and former interim superintendent, said she hopes any renovations of Kendrick or South Waco would be made with both community use and educational use in mind.
Committee member Taylor Bledsoe asked about the accumulating cost of proposed campus construction and renovation.
“How many bond elections are we talking about?” he said. “Are we looking at $1 billion over four bond elections?”
Waco ISD Trustee Allen Sykes said the total cost of the suggested projects is a concern. The district’s bonding capacity would be a crucial factor in determining what might go into a future bond issue, and the current districtwide review of facility needs is providing a big-picture look for planning ahead, he said.
“Pretty much everything is on the table now,” Sykes said.
O’Connell Robertson director of architecture Jarrod Sterzinger said discussing elementary school needs would take two meetings, and discussion of the district’s bonding capacity also will be examined in the committee’s remaining two meetings. A May 3 meeting will feature an update from the district’s demographer and a summary of projects discussed to date. A May 24 meeting will address project ranking.