GALLERY: RISD highlights need for maintenance funding

Half-century-old Royal Jr. High underscores issues

By R. Hans Miller | News Editor
Posted 5/5/21

Royal ISD’s administration hosted the second in a series of meetings with its Community Advisory Committee the evening of Wednesday, April 28. The meeting highlighted the challenges of …

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GALLERY: RISD highlights need for maintenance funding

Half-century-old Royal Jr. High underscores issues

Posted

Royal ISD’s administration hosted the second in a series of meetings with its Community Advisory Committee the evening of Wednesday, April 28. The meeting highlighted the challenges of maintaining the Royal Middle School given the campus’s age and growing student body.

“We are embarking on an area that’s different than Royal has seen – at least in my experience with Royal, which goes back three and a half decades,” Royal ISD Superintendent Rick Kershner said. “But, I didn’t always have to look at things like I do now. I looked at things differently as a teacher than I do as an administrator, but there is growth coming, and so we have to decide how we’re going to deal with it.”

Kershner said subdivisions such as Sunterra at the intersection of Stockdick and Schlipf roads will straddle the border between Royal and Katy ISDs with about 7,500 homes being divided between the two districts. Additionally, the Freeman Ranch subdivision will be adding up to 1,000 homes. Both of those subdivisions are expected to bring a rapid influx of students to the district, he said.

RISD’s financial advisor, Lucas Janda, said the growth those subdivisions pose don’t just pose challenges, they also provide opportunities. Development in the district increases property values and adds more households that pay taxes, he said. With that, repayment of any debts that come about as a result of capital improvements that are funded through bonds are spread out among more taxpayers, reducing the overall burden on individual households and helping the district keep the overall debt tax rate low.

The district has already been able to lower its overall tax rate due to new state laws and increases in both property values and tax base, RISD Business Manager Gladys Hein said in an interview with the Katy Times last fall. The 2019 tax rate was $1.427167 per $100 valuation which went down by about ten cents to $1.321817 per $100 in property value for the 2020 tax year. That rate includes maintenance, operations and debt service, with the debt service accounting for $0.3588 per $100 valuation.

District administration expressed concern that the current condition of campuses within the district, particularly Royal Junior High School, would pose problems as the district grows. Royal Junior High Principal Orlando Vargas applauded the campus’ maintenance team but said they could only do so much with a building that is about half a century old.

“You know, we have air conditioning – or HVAC – concerns in this building,” Vargas said. “… Sometimes we’ll get rain leaks from the roof as well and also from the HVAC lines.”

Royal ISD Operations Director Derrick Dabney, who oversees maintenance for all RISD campuses, said the middle school is facing several serious maintenance concerns. Insulation around HVAC cooling lines that usually keep condensation from forming have deteriorated which has led to humidity damage throughout the building, especially with ceiling tiles, flooring directly beneath HVAC units in the gym, the band and choir hall and paneling on doors throughout the campus. 

Staff also said the building still has areas with asbestos. While the hazardous material has been sealed away from where it can harm students, those repairs and remediation efforts need to be shored up as they are decaying with time.

While no pipes burst at the middle school during Winter Storm Uri, Dabney said there are significant plumbing issues with the building. In both the boys' and girls' restrooms the handwashing sink has been repaired with a makeshift fixture that only allows one person to wash up at a time. Additionally, in the boys' restroom, a collapsed drain pipe that would require portions of the wall or floor to be broken through to repair has collapsed, preventing the installation of new urinals in the bathroom.

Electrically, Dabney said the building is out of date. The library’s light switches no longer work, forcing the librarians to use three switches in the breaker box to turn the lights on and off. The school, due to its age, is also short on electrical outlets for teaching in the digital age, he said.

From a security standpoint, staff said the district needs to remodel the school’s entry to improve safety and install a new secured entry system across all of the district’s campuses. Currently, multiple systems are in use which creates extra work and costs more to maintain, they said.

Janda said the district is in a position where it is feasible to propose a bond with little or no tax rate increase. Last year, the district proposed a $37.3 million bond package – which was rejected by voters –  with a tax base of $1.45 billion in the district. This year, that position has strengthened with a tax base of $2.1 billion which would support a $70-90 million bond package without a tax rate increase. He added that the district has been responsible with its bond debt and expects to pay off millions of dollars in bond debt three years early over this coming summer.

Kershner said that, before any bond proposals are looked at for November, the committee will continue to meet to determine the needs of the district and ensure that a plan is in place to manage the district’s debt and serve the needs of its students.

“We have two main purposes for (the committee) and ultimately it's strategic planning for the district,” Kershner said. “But, also we’re looking at facilities – looking at capacity – the current capacity of buildings and facilities in the district. We’re looking at the growth that’s coming in.”

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