On Jan. 26, Humble ISD board members met in special session to receive a briefing on the progress of the projects now underway as a result of the massive $575 million district bond referendum passed in May 2018.
The voters of the district approved, by a margin of 75%, the bonds to build new schools, rebuild aging facilities, renovate and repair existing school facilities and update technology and safety enhancements.
Despite all that has happened since that passage, including area flooding, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic impacts on the district and its residents, the objectives of the bond issue are being met, on time and on schedule, if not faster. Dr. Elizabeth Fagen, superintendent of the district, provided a complete presentation that included multiple graphs, photos and artists’ depictions of projects completed, those under construction and those planned to begin soon. It included numerous videos and reports from teachers and students throughout the district about the progress.
“You have to go through a process for every single project and going through that process takes time,” Fagen said and explained the five factors that affect each of the various projects in order to complete them. They are: how imminently critical is the need; what is the volume and complexity of the projects that can be managed simultaneously; are there economies of scale that can be achieved by bundling similar projects when doing so maximizes resources and is practical; the amount of bonds that can be issued at one time without increasing Humble ISD’s tax rate; and minimizing the interruptions to the campus environment.
“So, people are wondering ‘How’s it going?’” Fagen said. She paused for a moment, then said with a smile on her face, “It is sort of a joke right now in my office. There are 14 shovels against the wall behind my computer because, as the board knows, we’ve been to a number of groundbreakings and that is great news!”
The bond issue came with a promise that it would be implemented with no new taxes. That pledge is being kept. Regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, she explained that the district, despite everything else happening, started to see things getting better from a construction standpoint. Contractors were eager for work to keep from laying off employees and interest rates were going down.
“When we started to see that happening, our team ramped up our processes. We moved things forward much faster in order to maximize every dollar given to us by the community,” she said.
The bond expenditures are for three basic categories of need; the first is security and safety, which includes vestibules and better air filtration systems in existing facilities especially with the pandemic. She noted that more secure access to elementary schools was especially needed.
“The second category is to meet growth. Humble ISD is a fast-growth school district, meaning we have a lot of folks building or buying homes here and our communities are constantly expanding. Eventually, we have to build new campuses,” Fagen said. Proper timing of the projects is critical to minimize both the overcrowding of existing schools and the underutilization for new schools until the community grows into them. The success of achieving a great balance of those conditions with the recent construction of the elementary school in the southern part of the district.
The third category of need is renewal and renovation.
“When you start to look at our older campuses, you have to do an analysis that looks at everything including the chillers, the roofs, the flooring, everything about the campus,” she said. Fagen explained when the need to make updates begins to approach the cost of replacement, the district starts looking at replacement.
“Lakeland Elementary is being replaced for that reason,” she said.
Throughout the presentation, Fagen provided pictures of each of the 24 major projects completed, currently underway or planned to be completed by the end of 2022. They ranged from the second bus barn to the north of the district that will save $2 million annually in bus operating costs due to less “dead heading” of buses to and from their daily routes, to all the new construction going on in the southern part of the district. These projects include the revolutionary Kingwood High School flood mitigation construction, renovations at all the existing high schools and middle schools, new gymnasiums and floors, the complete rebuild of Kingwood Middle School and new, safer turf on athletic fields throughout the district. Fagen closed her presentation with an invitation to the public.
“This fall, we would like to invite the community to come together to discuss what’s next for us. Where do we go from here?” Fagen asked. She invited the public to join in another citizens bond committee.
Details of all the bond issue projects are available at humbleisd.net/bond2018.