In May, residents voted to approve two bond projects totaling $426 million that would allow the Killeen Independent School District to take on several construction and renovation projects.
In the following months, those plans have gone through multiple changes.
Most recently, a $23 million change for Killeen High School was presented to the school board. In the original bond proposal, $75 million of a $191 million proposition for school renovations and updates was budgeted for the renovations of Killeen High.
During Tuesday night’s board meeting, Superintendent John Craft proposed a $98 million concept that would include new construction on much of the existing campus, as well as planned interior renovations. The next day, KISD spokesman Terry Abbott released a video showing an animated model of the new building. The day after that, the district tweeted an animated video for the changes to plans for a different project — Sugarloaf and Pershing Park elementary schools. The district has changed three plans that involved five elementary schools.
The changes to Killeen High would make it comparable with the district’s “High School No. 6” project, which is part of the $235 million bond for new construction. The new high school is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2022, off of Chaparral Road, and serve new and future residents in the south end of town.
Killeen High School, which has a capacity of just under 2,300, is the district’s oldest high school campus at age 53. The cafeteria is not large enough to seat half of the school’s population, which is a factor the district considers when deciding to open or close a campus during lunch periods. With Killeen High’s renovation and the construction of High School No. 6, the district hopes to close all high school campuses for lunch.
Additionally, at Killeen High, the ceilings of the band hall are low, and do not accommodate the activities that need to take place in that space, officials said. Other areas of the campus have also been in declining condition as the school ages.
“There’s a lot of tradition in the field house there, but it’s in bad shape,” board member Brett Williams said Tuesday.
No new high schools have been constructed in KISD since the late 1990s with the construction of Harker Heights and Shoemaker high schools. These campuses were built as ninth-grade centers and later became full high school campuses.
Williams, the newest board member, seemed excited in the meeting about the possible renovations to his alma mater.
“I have a daughter, and I’m just thinking ‘Is she going to get to experience that school?’” Williams said during Tuesday’s presentation. “I think it’s important that we give students something dynamic like this that makes them excited to go to school.”
However, the proposal was met with mixed feelings from the board, as some members worried the public would not be thrilled about another change in spending plans.
“Are we really being true to what we promised taxpayers we were going to do?” board member Susan Jones asked during Tuesday’s meeting.
Board member Minerva Trujillo defended Craft.
“I think Dr. Craft was very upfront during the bond presentation about the possibility of what $426 million COULD buy,” Trujillo said Tuesday.
The district posts bond-related spending updates on its website, as well as updates to the strategic facilities plan.
In the initial bond plan, a total of $426 million was approved between two propositions. Proposition A allotted $235 million for safety and accessibility projects and the construction of two new campuses, High School No. 6 and Elementary No. 36. The safety updates are underway district-wide, and the $19 million budgeted for these projects has not changed. The newest high school is in the design phase, and the estimated cost is now $147 million, which is $24 million under the original budget of $171 million. Elementary School No. 36 is now set to open in the fall of 2021, and the estimated cost for that project has been lowered to $40 million from the originally planned $45 million.
Multiple board members Tuesday evening asked how the district came so far under budget on these projects. Director of Facilities Services Adam Rich said the budgets were created on the generous side to allow for foreseeable expense possibilities.
“Bond project budgets were established in 2017 by utilizing a variety of construction cost information, including the district’s own recent construction projects, architectural and engineering consultants’ projects, general contractors’ projects and neighboring school districts’ projects,” Rich said in an email Thursday.
“Much of the savings that we’ve seen in our budgets for the 2018 bond elementary school projects has been from accelerating the design and construction timelines.”
“Also, millions of dollars are budgeted for design and construction fees, and through the Architectural and Engineering services procurement process, the district has been able to negotiate very competitive fees with consultants, on all of the bond projects, which has led to a considerable savings relative to the budgeted amounts for these professional service fees,” Rich said.
He also credited a competitive bidding process among construction managers with five firms entering sealed bids for the new high school and Killeen High School projects.
“American Constructor’s construction services fee percentage of 1.1% of the construction cost for High School No. 6 is essentially an unheard of fee for a project this size,” he said. “Based on the $136,000,000 budgeted construction cost, that fee alone was approximately $1.2 million lower than the next lowest bidder’s construction services fee,” he said.
Eight general contractors bid on two of the elementary school projects, Rich said.
PROP B CHANGES
Proposition B allotted $191 million for the consolidation of East Ward and West Ward, a consolidation of Pershing Park, Sugar Loaf and part of Bellaire elementary schools, and renovations on both Clifton Park Elementary and Killeen High School.
Here are the changes made to the plan.
East/West Ward: The East Ward and West Ward consolidation project had an initial budget of $44 million for a renovation of the current East Ward campus. This was adjusted to $48 million in September to allow for a brand new building to be constructed on the East Ward site.
Clifton Park: The bond originally budgeted $21 million for a renovation of Clifton Park Elementary as part of a consolidation with part of the Bellaire Elementary student population. However, this plan was adjusted in a unanimous board vote Oct. 9 to provide for a new campus to be constructed next to the site of Nolan Middle School. This plan would allow for almost the entirety of the elementary schools’ populations to remain together, rather than splitting up Bellaire students. This raised the cost of this project from $21 million to $40 million. Students at Nolan already had been slated to be moved out and rezoned because an additional middle school was in the strategic facilities plan for Harker Heights. It’s not being built with bond funds.
Pershing Park: The plan for the Pershing Park consolidation was also adjusted to account for the Bellaire population going elsewhere. The original budget for this consolidation went from $51 million to $42 million.
“We’re being very open and transparent about the process,” Craft said in a Thursday email. “Our bond website shows where every penny is going and we are working hard every day to bring the largest school construction program in Killeen history in on time and within budget.”
Before the bond went to the ballot in May, the district had presented its projects to a panel it chose of over 100 residents and business people. The committee picked items from the district’s projects menu and the district announced them to the public.
The proposed projects and expenditures were presented to the public before the measures were placed on the May 5 ballot.