Trustees approve GMP-6 for McNeil High construction project

Round Rock ISD’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously Monday to allocate $15.9 million to fund the Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) 6 for McNeil High School Phase 1 Master Plan. Funding GMP-6 will allow the District to complete the first phase of McNeil’s master plan, building a new music wing for band, orchestra and choir, moving and reconfiguring administrative offices and redesigning the front entrance to the school, among other projects.

The $15.9 million will be drawn from Bond 2014 surplus funds. Thanks to several large projects of Bond 2014 coming in significantly under budget, in addition to interest revenue accrued, there is ample reserves to accommodate the overage, according to Chief Financial Officer Randy Staats.

Construction has been ongoing at McNeil for the past few years and has been hampered by delays due to numerous factors, including jurisdictional, environmental and safety issues, which have also resulted in escalated project costs. McNeil was originally built in the 1980s on property that spans multiple governing jurisdictions, including both Williamson and Travis counties, and sits on top of an extensive cave system, some of which are home to endangered species. Those factors make construction difficult both for permitting reasons and safety concerns and site work has cost more than originally anticipated.

In September, due to the delays and concerns over escalating costs, Superintendent Steve Flores, Ph.D., and Board President Diane Cox called for a review of the construction project to determine whether the amount budgeted would be sufficient to complete the project as designed. Results of the review are due later this month, but the Board members felt they had enough information through interim updates to make a decision. Delaying the decision—even by a couple of weeks—could have meant a higher price tag due to volatility in the construction sector and inflation of construction costs.

“What we are learning from the review is that many factors led to higher costs at McNeil,” Flores said. “Fortunately, our bond programs are designed to be as efficient as possible and anticipate fluctuations. So many of our projects in Bond 2014 were completed under budget that we have enough in surplus funds to cover the additional costs at McNeil and deliver on what’s in the best interest of the McNeil community.”

Flores applauded the Board of Trustees for “courageous leadership” and the McNeil community for their patience.

“We understand that construction is a hardship on a campus and this process has been particularly arduous,” Flores said, thanking the Board for its decision. “From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank the families of McNeil for their patience and pledge to you that, in the end, we will always do what’s right for kids.”

The delays at McNeil began in 2015 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service halted progress on projects on the southwest side of the campus, located in Travis County, due to environmental concerns. Thanks to diligent work from Congressman John Carter, U.S. Fish and Wildlife ultimately deferred jurisdiction to Travis County, allowing work to begin last year.

Projects already completed as part of Phase I of McNeil’s Master plan which were not subject to the delay by U.S. Fish and Wildlife include new chillers and cooling towers for the HVAC system; upgrades to multiple restroom facilities; an agricultural science facility, including a vet-tech classroom and barn; and athletic facility upgrades. Currently, a new special education wing is well underway—piers have been drilled, the special education addition floor slab is poured, structural steel is going up and three required detention ponds are being built. A new marching band pad will be taking form as the ponds are completed and should be ready for use this summer.