By LYNETTE HAALAND
Four Points News
Leanders ISD recently started discussions about the idea of repurposing two schools in the southern part of the district aka the Four Points area. The main reason behind the idea to close some schools and modify them for other uses is the drop in enrollment. Other reasons include housing trends, inflation and the pandemic aftermath.
District administrators explained that due to under capacity at 11 elementary school campuses, three to four could be modified and utilized in a different function. This was shared during the February 7 LISD Board of Trustees meeting held in consideration of a bond.
“There’s the possibility of consolidating the population in elementary schools (in the south),” said Crestina Hardie, LISD spokesperson. “A proposal considered in the bond is repurposing an elementary school in the south projected to cost $37-million.”
Discussions in the Long-Range Plan state that one of the Steiner Ranch elementary schools is to be repurposed to a professional learning center and one of the two area middle schools would be repurposed for “TBD usage”.
Hardie did not confirm which schools are being considered and that repurposing, and she indicated this would be over the next 10 years. LISD would continue to maintain ownership of the sites it is considering in the repurposing.
Repurposing would result in rezoning happening in the Four Points area, and most of the Steiner households would be impacted, she added.
The discussion is largely based on the recent demographic study which predicts large drops in enrollment across almost all LISD schools in Four Points.
Fewer students are expected to be in the eight schools in the Four Points area. Future projects show that “most of the schools are hovering around 40% capacity,” Hardie said.
LISD is hosting a community forum on Monday, March 6 from 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. at Vandegrift due to the amount of communication received regarding the Long-Range Plan and the 2023 bond.
Reasons for repurposing
Hardie shared that the discussions began after the heftiest portions of the November 2021 bond failed some 18 months ago. Not long after that, the LISD Long-Range Committee, district staff and board members came up with ideas.
“When the bond failed in 2021, we had to think critically about how to handle uneven growth in the district,” Hardie said.
That initiated a Long-Range Plan Committee which started the process to create a 10-year facilities plan, addressing these key focus areas:
- student access to learning experiences that interest them
- facility optimization
- fiscal responsibility
- changes in population over time
“When the demographer’s report was released in the fall, numbers showed a downward trend of schools under capacity in the south,” Hardie said. “By repurposing a school, we have the potential to save our taxpayer’s money in the cost of operating a school.”
The district’s data aligns and is verified with the demographer’s report about trends in the southern part of the district, Hardie said. There are areas in the central part of the district as well that are being considered for repurposing as well.
“We’ve talked about rezoning the entire (LISD) area and drive student population south but that idea is extreme,” Hardie said. That would have a negative impact on families, she added.
“The driver is school enrollment,” Hardie said. “And when that bond failed, we were charged to spend money in a fiscally responsible way. We want to be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers.”
South specific reasons
Some reasons that the south is being looked at for repurposing include the projected drop in enrollment, inflation and the pandemic.
“We are noticing that people are staying… they enjoy staying put. People living in this area, continue to afford this area,” Hardie said.
“What we’re used to seeing in Leander and Cedar Park, we’re not seeing
Steiner Ranch, River Place and those areas. Folks are really comfortable living out their years, and younger families can’t always afford it (to live there),” she added.
Hardie also shared there are lingering effects of the COVID pandemic and how that affected LISD schools.
Since the pandemic and over the past couple years, the district has lost 1,500 to 2,000 students to charter or private schools. “We’re remaining open to the fact that we will see (those students) again,” Hardie said.
“Repurposing is not happening tomorrow. No final decisions have been made. We are looking at all options as we continue to try to balance uneven growth with fiscal responsibility,” Hardie said.
The process to consider repurposing is just beginning. Before LISD moves forward with any plans, the district will make sure the data supports any sort of repurposing before it makes a decision, Hardie said.
The district wants to hear from LISD residents in the Four Points area. Residents in the southern part of the district are a “powerful force of community engagement,” Hardie shared.
“We look to see what’s best for students when we look at repurposing schools,” she added.
“I don’t want people (in the south) to feel they are not part of this vital process,” Hardie said. “The right opportunity to be heard is right now.”