Don’t look for portable classrooms at Cleveland ISD to go away any time soon.
As more students move to the Cleveland area each year, the portable buildings will be needed to prevent overcrowding at the District’s six campuses, even though Cottonwood Elementary opened last year, Pine Burr Elementary will open this August and two new campuses – Elementary No. 6 and Middle School No. 2 – will open in 2022. The unnamed campuses will be named by the school board once they are further into the construction process.
“We are growing at a minimum of 1,200 students per year now,” said Cleveland ISD Superintendent Chris Trotter. “At the end of the last school year, we had a total of 9,158 students, up from the 8,000 students we had at the beginning of the school year.”
The rapid growth puts Cleveland ISD ahead of the pack in the Fast-Growth School Coalition, an alliance of roughly eight dozen Texas school districts impacted by growth.
On Wednesday, June 23, Trotter held a pre-construction meeting for the new Northside campus, which was designed by VLK Architects and will be built by Crain Construction. Like all other construction projects taking place at the moment, the rising cost of materials is causing a slight impact for the Northside Elementary project, which is budgeted at approximately $34 million.
The new Northside Elementary campus will be a 135,000-square-foot, two-story building for a target enrollment of 1,100 students. The school is located on an 80-acre property on FM 2025 west of Cleveland that has room for a third middle school and future expansion, Trotter said. It will open in July 2022.
Also slated to open around that same time will be Elementary No. 6 and Middle School No. 2. Both are under construction in the Santa Fe Section 10 neighborhood along Grand San Jacinto Drive south of Plum Grove. The new schools are a short distance from Pine Burr Elementary, located in Santa Fe Section 6. Elementary No. 6 is around the same size as the two-story, 130,000-square-foot Cottonwood Elementary, which opened in August 2020. Both new campuses will feature a cafetorium, gym, black box theater and a band hall, though the middle school campus will have a larger gym.
In time, both of those campuses will have direct access to SH 321 and Plum Grove Road.
The new middle school should alleviate some of the pressure on the crowded Cleveland Middle School campus in Cleveland. At 230,000-square-feet, it can accommodate 1,600 students.
With the record pace of growth, Cleveland ISD is now eyeing plans to repurpose the old Northside Elementary campus, though how it will be used remains to be seen.
Another project set to break ground soon is a softball and baseball complex located on a 10-acre tract behind Cleveland Middle School and Cleveland High School on land that was previously used as a bus barn. The barn has since been relocated to the District’s new service center and transportation hub on FM 1010 on the old Cleveland Youth Baseball Association fields.
The sports complex will be adjacent to the existing tennis fields and will share parking with the existing football stadium. It will have a shared concession stand and a small restroom facility, and a modest-sized press box on each field. Both fields will share an entry booth where people can purchase tickets to the games. The current fields located on Houston Street (SH 321) will remain unchanged.
All of the new projects are being funded by the $198 million bond approved by voters in 2019.
“The District’s financial director Karen Billingsley and I, working with the school board, have restructured our bonds. We’ve done very well and lowered our interest rates, which will make it possible if we ever have to call for another zero tax rate increase bond,” said Trotter, adding that the District is working very hard to ensure that the financial burden on taxpayers within Cleveland ISD is kept at the lowest amount possible. As new rooftops are added to the District every year, the tax burden will continue to spread to more property owners.
Trotter and the board also are working closely with the City of Cleveland, making sure that all the campuses, even those outside the city limits, meet the City’s construction standards.
“We are cooperating with the City to put a water tower on FM 2025 to make it feasible for the City to expand. We do our best to be good partners,” he said.
As for how the new Northside campus will impact traffic along FM 2025, Trotter said the City is working on adding another access road along Washington Street. In the meantime, District police officers will be directing traffic during high-traffic times, such as early morning drop-offs and afternoon pick-ups of students.
“The City Manager, Bobby Pennington, and I recently went to Austin to talk to the Texas Department of Transportation to get some things done over the next six months,” Trotter said.
When asked if the District has plans to move to a four-day-a-week schedule for students in the coming years, Trotter said it is not in the District’s immediate future.
“It works for some school districts but when you are a fast-growth school district and you are continuously getting students from other parts of the state or country, it takes a while to develop a plan like that, and we are nowhere near there at the moment,” he said.
The District also has future plans to establish a second transportation hub in the Plum Grove area in the coming years.
“It’s not in our immediate future but we have property next to Cottonwood Elementary for a second transportation center. That’s in our five-year plan, but for now we are going to keep following the map we’ve created and keep doing what we are doing,” he said.