By Betsy Dolan
The Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees voted to begin the construction bid process on Elementary School #46 in the Aliana subdivision along the Grand Parkway corridor, one of the areas projected by the district to grow significantly in the coming years.
Two trustees, Dave Rosenthal and Jenny Bailey, abstained from voting due to their concerns over the estimated enrollment numbers for the new school which is projected to open at 76% utilization and be full utilized by 2016.
“I’m very uncomfortable in this legislative year and without knowing what cuts we might be facing to build a new school when we haven’t looked at all of the options like Pecan Grove Elementary which is underutilized right now,” Bailey said. “I’d like to look at the numbers and look at other options and possibly postpone number 46 until 2015.”
Enter Justin Silhavy, who is to Fort Bend ISD what Nate Silver is to political polls. The district’s Demographic and Planning Coordinator uses a complex system of charts, maps, engineering plats, historical patterns and old fashioned conversation to predict where the district is likely to grow and where it is likely to shrink.
Silhavy recently presented a demographic and building utilitzation update to the trustees that highlighted growth areas, overcrowding issues and likely locations for new schools in the next 10 years.
According to Silhavy, the Fort Bend ISD student population which had been stagnant during the economic downturn, is now on the rise. As of October 2012, there are 69,481 students attending Fort Bend ISD schools, an increase from the fall of 2009.
The northern tier of the district, where Aliana sits, is expected to grow significantly as the energy corridor near the Katy Freeway grows and with on-going improvements to the Grand Parkway, Silhavy told the trustees.
“Right now there is 3.5 million square feet of office space in that area with 2.5 million more in the pipeline. I’m projecting that growth to spur residential development in the northern part of the district,” Silhavy said.
Currently Riverstone, Sienna Plantation in the central part of the district, and Aliana to the north are the most active housing developments in the district and Silhavy predicts they will continue to hold that pattern into 2017. Other northern developments like Grand Mission Estates and Fieldstone as well as Sienna South are also projected to grow significantly.
As enrollment balloons in some areas, it decreases in others as neighborhoods age. Balancing enrollments and making sure schools are between 80-90% building utilization is a challenge, Silhavy said.
He told the trustees that he recommends proceeding with the opening of Elementary #46 for the fall of 2014, opening a new elementary in Riverstone on land that has already been purchased in 2016 with two other elementary schools opening in the north by 2019 and one elementary opening in Sienna South by 2020. He is projecting the need for two new middle schools, one in the north and one in the south by 2022 and a new high school in the central area to help alleviate overcrowding at Travis, Bush and Kempner by 2020.