A lot of activity is underway in the Ysleta Independent School District (YISD) in the greaterEl Paso area. With about 46,000 students and an aging infrastructure, Ysleta administrators knew they had to leap into the 21st century, even before news of a Fort Bliss expansion.
"This district had not had a bond program for over 20 years, so that tells you right away that the facilities were in bad shape," said Dr. Anna Perez, associate superintendent in the Operations Division with the YISD. "We are a property-poor school district. Over the years, the district just took care of maintenance."
To get the ball rolling, the school board appointed a committee of citizens to study the YISD's campuses. The committee visited each of the schools where the principal and staff presented their school's needs. Then the committee toured schools in other El Paso school districts.
"They began to realize how far Ysleta had fallen behind," Perez added. "The schools had very few computers, yet the electrical capacity of these 50-year-old buildings was inadequate for installation of modern technology."
Because the amount needed to fully bring district facilities up to desired standards was close to $500 million and there had been no bond election in the YISD for over 20 years, the committee, board and superintendent decided to approach the election with only half that amount, then hold a bond election for the balance at a later date.
The $250-million proposal passed in 2004, and at present about 95 percent has been built out or has been awarded, according to Daniel Escobar with YISD Operations. The second bond referendum has not yet been scheduled, but could possibly happen near the end of 2009.
"We wanted to do something across the district, so we started with playground equipment and water fountains at all the elementary schools — the easier, most visible projects so people could see an immediate return on their vote," Perez explained. "Second, five new campuses were designed and are in various stages nearing completion. Our last projects under this bond will be remodeling existing schools."
The northeast part of the YISD serves students of Fort Bliss and Biggs Army Airfield personnel who live off-base. News of the expansion at the military bases is one of the reasons YISD started their construction projects there first.
"At the time [of the bond election], there were just rumors of the expansion of Fort Bliss and Biggs Army Airfield, but we knew that we needed to address that area, so we started the new Parkland Elementary first." Dimensions Architecture helped the YISD design a campus for 800 students with the future in mind. "We have space available so that we can absorb additional students there; plus the building was designed so that we could add another wing with additional classrooms." VistaCon, Inc. completed Parkland Elementary's new campus in time for the spring 2007 semester.
Parkland High School will be receiving a new classroom wing addition to their existing building, plus new fine arts and athletic facilities. Plans are still in the design phase.
Eastwood Middle School
Alvidrez & Associates Architects designed a 260,000-square-foot campus to serve 1,500 middle school students. The existing structure at 2612 Chasewood St. was in such poor condition, according to Perez, that "villages" of portable buildings were created on other campuses for the various grades so that the old Eastwood Middle School could be completely demolished and rebuilt. Banes General Contractors, local to El Paso, completed the $30-million new campus in time for the fall 2007 semester. The new facility features over 70 classrooms, 12 dedicated science classrooms and laboratories, cyber lounge, two-story media resource center, fine arts wing, band and orchestra rooms, drama rooms with staging areas, and two gymnasiums.
North Loop Elementary
SamCorp General Contractors, also an El Paso contractor, completed the new North Loop Elementary campus for 675 students to move into for the spring 2008 semester. Carson Franco Architects designed the 88,470-square-foot campus at 412 Emerson St. Students were able to remain in their existing school building as the new campus was built on the playground side of the campus. Having moved students into new classrooms in January, the old building is being demolished, soon to be replaced with their new playground.
North Loop Elementary was built rather economically at $96 per square foot, according to SamCorp vice president Richard Bransford. "Because the contract was signed almost two years ago, we were able to contract materials before prices increased so drastically."
El Paso contractors experienced another not-so-pleasant surprise a couple of years ago — a record rainfall during the summer of 2006. That was just about the time work was beginning on North Loop Elementary. The flooding changed a lot of people's minds about how they were constructing buildings. Although waterproofing is common in most other parts of the state, Texas' western reaches are not usually concerned.
"El Paso contractors are starting to be more cognizant of water infiltration since the heavy rains and flooding a couple of years ago," Bransford said. "That is why we wrapped the building in a Tyvec system."
A new campus for pre-kindergarten children will be bidding this spring. The architectural firm Gerry Gutierrez/IDEA designed this new pre-kindergarten campus for 800 students. The contract is expected to be awarded within the next few weeks with construction starting this summer.
BPLW/ASG Architects have been contracted to plan and design a new campus in the lower Mission Valley on North Loop Drive. The project is still in early conceptual planning and land acquisition.
A number of remodeling contracts are being planned for other campuses. A few have been awarded, with more to come. YISD is advertising the projects locally in El Paso and on the www.YISD.net  website on the "Finance and Purchasing" page.