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Austin (Texas) school committee identifies $1.2 billion in priority facility needs

May 10, 2017
Advisory panel recommends that a bond proposal, which may be scheduled for November, should not exceed $900 million.

An advisory committee for the Austin (Texas) school board has identified $1.2 billion in proposed construction projects that could make their way into a November ballot proposal.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the $1.2 billion represents the costs of priority projects recommended for the first six years of a comprehensive facilities master plan adopted by the board.

Advisory committee members are recommending that any bond package should be capped at no more than $900 million, which would mean some priority projects would need to wait.

The priority projects include tearing down and rebuilding T.A. Brown Elementary, which was unexpectedly shuttered last year for safety issues; building three schools to relieve crowding; and moving LASA High School to a central location.

In weighing how to put together a bond package that voters will find palatable, the Austin board has to consider two recent election failures: A $572 million proposal that voters in the neighboring Round Rock district rejected last week, and a 2013 election in which half of Austin’s $892 million bond package was repudiated. The failed propositions four years ago marked the first time in nearly 25 years that the electorate had said no to funding for Austin school projects.

The board says it wants to proceed with caution and make sure the district puts forward firm estimates on project costs and prioritizes the most urgent needs. Board members already have delayed calling for a bond referendum; some of them wanted to put one before voters last year.

Instead, the advisory committee spent more than a year creating a master plan to determine the district’s exact needs and discuss them with parents and community members. The bond committee has spent more than 18 months honing the district’s 25-year facilities master plan, which includes hundreds of recommendations aimed at modernizing the district and all of its campuses.

Those recommended projects not included in the first six years are expected to be spread out over several bond packages in the next three decades.

The average age of a facility in the Austin district is 40 years old, and some are more than a century old. Nearly 40 percent of the district’s facilities have been determined to be in poor or very poor condition.

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