Westwood and McNeil high schools are slated for significant work if voters approve Round Rock Independent School District’s proposed Bond on Nov. 6. The $508.4 million Bond is not expected to raise the District’s tax rate, which is at a 30-year low.
At Westwood, Bond 2018 would allow for the completion of the final phase of the school’s Master Plan approved in 2007.
“It’s been a long time in the making when you look back at where we began and where we are now,” said Becky Donald, area superintendent for the Westwood Learning Community and former Westwood principal.
Though it’s the second-oldest high school in the District, current principal, Mario Acosta said students feel they attend a brand new school, thanks to the decade of work on the Master Plan.
“It’s been modernized,” he said.
The final area to be refreshed is the fine arts spaces. This project would revamp all music, dance, theater, and art rooms, allowing the school to keep up with the current enrollment of more than 2,700 students and ensure that spaces are adequate sizes for Westwood’s programs, Donald said.
“They’ll have a band hall that will be functional and will have the space they need,” Donald said. The scope also includes a larger practice room for the orchestra, which has outgrown its space.
For ROTC, which requires a lot of physical activity of its students, a gym-like space would be built for ROTC’s specific needs. Currently, ROTC students work in a retrofitted classroom. Dance and color guard also would benefit from this space.
Westwood also would say goodbye to the 20-plus portables that have long been used on campus. With consistent enrollment at the school, the District can replace them with a brick-and-mortar addition. Acosta points out that an addition will make Westwood one building, which improves safety and security on campus and keeps students from having to go outside for class.
“That changes how we can secure the building,” Acosta said
Donald says an addition will “connect the whole community,” affect the culture and lead to more collaboration. “That’s an exciting thought about it being done.”
At McNeil High School, the District hopes to move forward to Phase 2A as part of a Master Plan approved in 2014 and add a science wing, a bigger cafeteria, and kitchen, new Career, and Technical Education classrooms and a new black box theater for its more than 2,600 students.
In the science addition, students will benefit from up-to-date education in classrooms that meet current Texas Education Agency guidelines.
“We are utilizing classrooms that aren’t designed for science, so you don’t have the infrastructure for those needs,” said John Yonker, area superintendent of the McNeil Learning Community. “The science addition frees up traditional classrooms for all kinds of classes.”
The science addition also will have a student lobby at both ends, which Yonker said increases security by creating more controlled access to the rear of the building.
The new 16,000-square-foot cafeteria and kitchen would be in remodeled space and would feed up to 3,000 students.
“It’s more than the space kids eat in; it’s also about the space where food is prepared and about serving lines,” McNeil Principal Amanda Johnson said. She said it’s like eating out: “Sometimes you sit down and wait, but if the kitchen is too small, you still have wait on your food.”
Career and Technical Education (CTE) would take over the existing cafeteria space, and most CTE spaces would be upgraded. CTE includes health science, engineering, audio/video learning, agriculture, business and nutrition. Agriculture upgrades started in Phase 1.
“This is critical for us,” engineering instructor Lisa Windolph said. “Engineering is in a space that it was never designed to be in—we’re kind of shoehorned in.”
Windolph is excited at the opportunity for a real makerspace for students to do manufacturing.
“People try to donate equipment to us, but we have to turn it away because of space. This will offer us a space for more hands-on learning—we’re all about hands-on learning.”
ROTC will gain a fully renovated space when it takes over a former maintenance facility on campus. “That space lends itself to a lot of possibilities,” Yonker said.
Performing arts students would get a black box theater, and all the performing arts classes would be moved into one area on campus, to give those students more opportunity to collaborate.
“For 14 years now, we’ve been teaching in a converted lecture hall and a dance portable, which is on the opposite side of the campus from the band, choir, dance, and orchestra,” Head Theater Director Aaron Johnson said. Johnson explained that while the Raymond E. Hartfield Performing Arts Center is on McNeil’s campus, it is a District facility and not for use on a daily basis by McNeil students. “It would not be feasible for us to use any part of that building, as it is solidly booked year-round,” he said.
In addition, locker rooms will get critically needed upgrades that include plumbing and infrastructure improvements, Yonker said, and a large portion of the original McNeil roof will be replaced.
Projects from Phase 1 that are nearing completion also will free up space for the renovation of classrooms. The special education addition is scheduled to be available in January for students returning from winter break, and framing is underway on the new fine arts addition in the front of the school. When the fine art wing is complete, work can begin on remodeling the current fine arts space for administration, and McNeil will get a new entrance.
Most of the major infrastructure work on the site is done, says Terry Worcester, Round Rock ISD’s chief operating officer. Site improvements on the south side of the campus include a new concrete marching pad, new parking, new water quality ponds, new waste infrastructure, new water infrastructure, new fire line or lane infrastructure and more.
“A lot of work has been going on under the surface, and it’s difficult to see,” Worcester said.
Worcester believes the next addition at McNeil will go more quickly than previous work because regulatory hurdles have been dealt with, the new science addition will be smaller than Phase 1 additions, many site improvements already are finished, and simply because his team now has experience dealing with the voids and caves on site.
Westwood and McNeil aren’t the only high schools that would receive a major renovation. At Stony Point High School, students would get a bigger cafeteria.
“We have four lunches on our campus,” Stony Point High Principal Anthony Watson said. “Due to the size of the cafe itself, we are not able to adequately house 600-plus students that we have at each lunch currently. The expansion will allow for at least 700 students to be seated and actually enjoy their lunch at a time.”
Additional projects in the Bond include upgrades to high school athletic facilities and security Districtwide; the purchase of land and the start of construction on a brick-and-mortar facility for Early College High School; and shovel-ready plans for High School #6, which is an anticipated need to accommodate growth in Round Rock ISD.