Houston School District Learns Lessons From Old Bond Program

Cheerleaders are dressed in bright green uniforms at Atherton Elementary. It’s a brand new campus in Fifth Ward.

cheerleaders
Student cheerleaders greet visitors at the ribbon-cutting earlier this month for the new $15 million campus for Atherton Elementary in Fifth Ward. The facility was funded by the 2007 bond program.

They greet visitors and shake their pompoms.

“Good Morning!”

This is a day to celebrate Atherton.

Parents, teachers and community leaders are packed into the shiny new cafeteria for a ceremony full of music and speeches.

This day has been a long time coming.

Principal Albert Lemons has been waiting six years for this new campus.

And I’ve been over the world. I’ve been to Germany, I’ve been to England, I’ve been to France — I’ve been everywhere you can name. I’ve never seen a school like this. I’ve been crying for three months now. It’s time for me to stop, but I just can’t.”

The $15 million school was funded by the bond program passed back in 2007.

But there’s still more work to do.

Leo Bobadilla is the chief operating officer for HISD.

He says contracts need to be signed for almost $150 million worth of work. There are about 50 schools left in different stages.

“So there are some schools that are really ramping up, they’re closing out. There are others that are really at the first phase of multi-phase project. But at the end of the day our plan is to complete all the projects by the end of 2014.”

That’s the plan. But it’s two years late. The original plan was to finish all the work by 2012.

HISD Trustee Michael Lunceford says there were issues beyond the district’s control that delayed the process.

Lunceford, who has served on the oversight committee, points to the financial crisis in 2008.

“The bond market was scared about what’s happening in the financial world. So we had a couple of those issues. And then you had a new superintendent come in and then you had a new CEO come in, and it took a while to catch up.”

Atherton
Parents, teachers and community leaders pack the new cafeteria at Atherton Elementary to celebrate the new campus.

HISD is bearing down to finish that work from the old bond.

But Bobadilla says they’ve learned some important lessons for the new bond.

“One is accountability. As we move forward, we want to make sure we don’t let off that pedal, where our vendors know that you’re making a commitment to do certain things and we expect those things to be done.”

Bobadilla says the district is already ahead of schedule for the new projects from the latest bond program.

It will renovate or replace 40 schools across Houston.

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