Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
With about two years left at its current location in Southtown, San Antonio Independent School District is starting to move on plans to construct a new consolidated central office adjacent to Fox Tech High School's campus just north of downtown.
In late February, the district sold property at 620 Matagorda St., 211 Lavaca St., 215 Lavaca St., and 141 Lavaca St., where central office operations are located, to Broadway SA Investors, which is the real estate arm of Silver Ventures, the group that redeveloped the Pearl.
The February sale included a provision that allows SAISD to lease the land from Broadway SA Investors for 28 months for an annual payment of $100. At the end of that period, SAISD plans to move into a new central office facility. On Wednesday, trustees met in an afternoon committee meeting to discuss plans for the new facility, and district officials later held a public forum on the topic with residents.
Plans for the central office are still tentative, but district officials plan for the new office to be located on the football field at Fox Tech, a school that doesn't participate in varsity football.
Those attending the evening forum, many of whom were parents of students at Fox Tech High School or Advanced Learning Academy, which is located on the same campus, expressed concern that losing the football field would leave little green space for students.
"The idea of the facility is great, but I don’t want the facility here," ALA parent Vanessa Jimenez said. Jimenez works in North East ISD, which operates with one consolidated district headquarters.
"North East didn't put it in the middle of McArthur or Churchill. … A lot of us are super concerned that we are adding a facility and taking away from our students’ education," Jimenez said.
The architects on the project said that nothing was completely set. Wednesday night's meeting represented what the district called "foundational concepts" of the project, while future meetings would explore preferences and the preliminary design.
District officials stressed that SAISD must move quickly to build its central office because of the lease timeline at its current location. At its next board meeting on July 23, trustees likely will vote to choose a construction manager.
From there, district officials will work to design the facility, start construction by April 2019, and complete the project by August 2020.
Jimenez said the construction's timeline and the resulting facility will impact her daughter, who will enter ninth grade at ALA in the fall, and likely graduate in 2022.
"You cannot sell us that this location is the best location for the current students here," Jimenez said.
Kamal ElHabr, SAISD's associate superintendent of construction services, told the Rivard Report that while plans for the facility are still tenuous, it is likely the new building will house about 625 SAISD employees.
The purpose of the new building will be to bring together 30 departments and offices that are currently located in six different facilities, including some shuttered schools. Moving the scattered departments into one main building will make the district more efficient and save as much as $1 million in operating and utility costs per year, ElHabr said.
"The idea that our superintendent is not in the same building as our academic team is mind-blowing," trustee Steve Lecholop said at the Wednesday afternoon meeting.
ElHabr agreed, saying previous superintendents all felt the district needed one office location to allow departments to work together without traveling.
Money from the sale of district properties in February, and proceeds from the sale of other properties at Alamo and Austin streets and a food service warehouse will fund the construction of the building.
These proceeds will not extend, however, to the construction of a planned 700-car parking garage. This part of the project will come later and will likely be completed through a public-private partnership that will reduce SAISD's cost of construction, ElHabr said.
In the meantime, trustees discussed the possibility of using surface parking lots and shuttling employees to work until a garage could be constructed.
"I think we need to be really creative in a truly urban environment to figure out how we can make this work, because during construction, it is going to be a nightmare for parkers at this facility," Lecholop said.