What About That 2004 Bond Election?

An update on bond proposals approved in 2004

With $343.7 million in bonds for the Austin Independent School District on the May 10 ballot, Austin's citizens are starting to think about future education spending. But meanwhile, the district is still completing projects from the last bond election.

In 2004, voters passed six bond propositions, worth $519.5 million. The district broke the projects contained in those propositions into five phases. Currently, they are on phase four: Nearly all the projects have been designed, and the district has taken construction bids so they can break ground this summer. The district is scheduled to pick architects and construction managers for the last two projects, the undesignated North-Central and Southwest elementaries, on May 12. This is the last phase of major construction, since phase five mainly consists of repairs and renovations, such as window replacement and roofing work. "For the most part, we're sitting where we thought we'd be," said Curt Shaw, AISD director of construction management.

Breaking the projects down into phases means the district has staggered the sale of the bonds and so staggered the repayments on them. "It's like taking out a loan for your car: You don't borrow the money and then leave it in your account until you buy your car," said AISD's Chief Financial Officer Larry Throm. So far, there have been three issues, totaling roughly $249 million. Out of the $270 million left, the district expects to issue another $100 million in June. Between staggering issues, house-price increases, and low interest rates, the district has avoided using any of the property-tax increase voters approved ($46.5 per $100,000 of appraised value).

Around one-fourth of the projects has altered since being originally drafted, either expanding, becoming more costly, or getting split into separate projects to take advantage of shifting conditions. "We start out with a given number of projects in a particular phase," explained Shaw. "If there happens to be a major failure of a mechanical system, we'll at least pull that forward." Last summer's rains caused some unexpected construction delays. "It didn't delay an opening, but we really had to hustle," said Shaw. Unexpected hiccups like these are why the district built a $49 million contingency budget into the bond. For example, Overton Elementary ended up $2.9 million over budget when a geology report showed crumbly soil at the proposed site, meaning deeper foundations and some design changes would be needed. But, as Shaw noted, the school still opened on schedule in 2007.

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