Cleveland ISD pushing 9K in student enrollment, purchasing land for new Northside campus

Cleveland ISD Superintendent Chris Trotter addresses Cleveland City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 20, to discussion construction projects.

Cleveland ISD Superintendent Chris Trotter shared plans for a new Northside Elementary campus during a presentation Tuesday night to Cleveland City Council. The district had been considering an expansion to Northside Elementary, part of a $198 million, zero tax rate increase bond approved by voters in November 2019, but it appears those plans have been scrapped in favor of building a new campus on land that the district is purchasing on FM 2025 behind Baldwin Park.

“We are looking to close on that land in the first week of November and will put that out to bid in March. We will start breaking ground in April. That will give us 14 months to build that [campus],” said Trotter, adding later that the old campus is not going to disappear as the school district needs every site as it continues to grow.

If the new Northside Elementary follows other elementary schools that are under construction or recently completed, such as Cottonwood Elementary, the new Northside Elementary will be a two-story structure with approximately 130,000 square feet of space. The campus will house students in pre-K through fifth grades. VLK is the architect and bids for construction will go out in early 2021. Construction of this campus is expected to start in April 2021 and an estimated completion time of June or July 2022.

Trotter updated the Council on construction of Elementary No. 5, a yet-unnamed campus in the Grand San Jacinto Subdivision south of Plum Grove, and plans for a sixth elementary school and a second middle school that will be built on adjacent properties in that same community. These projects also are part of the $198 million bond.

Elementary No. 5 is being built on land donated to Cleveland ISD by Colony Ridge, the developer of Grand San Jacinto and several other adjacent communities south of Plum Grove. The architect is Huckabee and the contractor is Pogue Construction. This campus will be ready for students by the fall of 2021.

“Site clearing is complete and construction is underway,” Trotter said about Elementary No. 5. “We built Cottonwood Elementary for $240 a square foot. We are building this building, which is a replica, for $185 a square foot. That’s a substantial savings.”

The savings were realized by changing the method of procurement and with lower interest rates on bonds, Trotter added.

Elementary 6 and Middle School 2 are being built on land donated to Cleveland ISD by Colony Ridge. The two campuses will be bid as a dual project as they share the same property. Bidding for these campuses will begin in February 2021. Huckabee is the architect and bidding for construction will start in February 2021. Construction of these campuses is expected to start in April 2021 with an estimated completion time of June or July 2022.

While the District originally budgeted $107 million of the $198 million bond for Elementary No. 6 and Middle School 2, the actual costs are expected to be closer to $77 million, a cost-savings of $30 million, enough to build another elementary campus, Trotter said. The bond also is funding softball and baseball renovations and a new staff development/administration office (on a site still to be determined).

Trotter showed aerial videos around Elementary No. 5 that show the extent of development in the Colony Ridge communities.

“I have constituents in the community ask me, ‘Are you really going to get all those students?’ When you have about 150 miles of road [around the campus], yeah, they are coming,” he said. “What I look for are the sandy rectangles. That is a proverbial lot. As I have counted them up, the first week they sent me the video, there were six [cleared lots]. The next week there were 13, then 39 the next week. Now there are about 75 within the last four weeks. We are seeing substantial growth.”

Currently, Cleveland ISD has 8,800 students, up by 900 students in March 2020 when schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The distribution of students tends to follow 50 percent elementary students, 25 percent middle school and 25 percent high school, Trotter said.

“When you get to a half-million people on the southern end of the District, we have to have 26 elementaries, 6 to 8 middle schools and 3 to 5 high schools,” he said.

Trotter wants the community know that Cleveland ISD is not trying to push more expenses onto taxpayers than they can bear, but the District is looking at substantial growth that cannot be addressed with more portable classrooms.

“When presented the bond to the public, we were getting 126 new students per month. We literally enrolled 62 new students just last week. We are starting to see huge growth. We are the fastest-growing school district in the state,” Trotter said.

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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