HISD bond proposal raises ‘red flags’ on inflation costs

July 13, 2012

The Houston ISD board on Thursday got more specifics about the financial breakdown of a $1.89 billion bond, prompting some questions about the rising price of building schools.

“The cost seems to be a bit high, and it causes red flags,” trustee Manuel Rodriguez said.

In some cases, he said, it seemed too much additional money was being asked to make up for inflation, even if some of the schools would not be built for several years.

However, Leo Bobadilla, the district’s chief operating officer, pointed out that HISD’s projected costs fared well when compared to national data on school construction that showed the price of building high schools increased by 9.3 percent a year — or 93 percent over the course of a decade.

As an example, he estimated the cost of building an 84,000-square-foot elementary school for 750 pre-K through fifth-grade pupils would have risen from $16 million in 2007 to $23.4 million in 2012.

Trustee Larry Marshall later commented, “This board made one major mistake. The 2007 bond was too small.”

Among the costs voters will likely be asked to approve this time is $577 million to replace eight high schools: Furr, High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Lee, Madison, Sharpstown, Sterling, Booker T. Washington and Yates.

Additionally, $354 million will be sought to replace inadequate facilities at four high school: Sam Houston, along with three Examiner area schools at Bellaire, Lamar and Westbury.

Other affected Examiner area schools likely to be included in construction plans are:

• Three elementary schools — Pilgrim Academy, Wharton Dual Language and the new Mandarin Chinese Language Immersion Magnet School at Gordon — to be converted into kindergarten through eighth-grade facilities. This is part of $121 million in conversions at four schools;

• Parker and Condit, which are expected to be among five elementary schools to be replaced as part of a $126 million effort.

In all, the referendum will seek $1.67 billion specifically to improve or replace 42 schools.

“I see a tremendous disparity in costs,” trustee Juliet Stipeche said. “There are many schools that don’t appear on the proposal that have significant needs.”

Grier responded that the bond simply could not pay for everything that needs to be done. He said HISD’s bond programs in 1998, 2002 and 2007 primarily addressed needs at the elementary school level, while this one focuses on high schools.

The average HISD secondary school is now 50 years old, according to HISD records — 11 years older than the average elementary school.

The HISD administration expects to have final recommendations from consulting firm Parsons Commercial Technology Group Inc. by the end of July, Grier said. At that time, the report will be posted on the HISD website.

Trustees Greg Meyers and Rodriguez both said they would like to have community meetings prior to deciding on the final referendum criteria.

In order to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot the referendum must be in final form by Aug. 20. The board has a regular meeting scheduled for Aug. 9.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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