San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

February 3rd, 2009
Housing starts drop in Hays CISD

STAFF REPORT

Perhaps the Hays CISD maintained wild dreams in terms of growth for 2008 as the rest of the nation saw a bad housing market coming into bloom. But if those dreams didn’t come true, that doesn’t necessarily amount to a nightmare.

Hays CISD Deputy Superintendent Carter Scherff told the school board last week that housing starts came in well below projections, meaning the school district didn’t grow as fast as predicted.

School officials predicted 1,331 housing starts within the school district for 2008, which would have constituted an increase from 1,185 in 2007 and 1,574 in 2006. Instead, Hays CISD saw only 892 housing starts in 2008, a drop of 24.7 percent from 2007 and 43.3 percent from 2006.

Because of the slow housing market that has caught up to Hays County, Scherff told trustees that he has dropped his projections for next year to about 500 additional students, compared to an initial projected increase of 700 students.

“The economic impact felt by the rest of the country is being felt here,” Scherff said. “We have seen a significant decline in the number of houses we’re expecting.”

Fourth quarter housing starts (128) and closings (213) are the lowest totals in four years, Scherff said. School District Strategies predicts even fewer starts, about 700, for 2009.

Among the most active developments are Green Meadows with 68 new home starts projected for 2009, Whispering Hollow with 64 new home starts projected, Garlic Creek West, with 79 new home starts projected, and Kensington Trails, with 39 new home starts projected.

Hays CISD officials have long maintained that a slower housing market would be a blessing in disguise, just so they can catch up with growth that has hammered the school district for much of the last ten years. School officials have said enrollment is bound to increase five percent per year regardless of the market because so many young families live in the area with children who are still growing into school age.

“For our planning and goal setting, this is something we’re going to have a good handle on, or at least an understanding of,” Hays CISD Trustees President Chip DuPont said. “We’re more able to concentrate and focus on the students here if we’re not having the growth of 1,000 new students each year. There’s some silver lining to these things.”

Scherff told the board that district enrollment is up 805 students this year from the same point last year. The school district’s most recent count placed total enrollment at 13,808, an increase a little short of 5,000 in the last five years.

Scherff reported that 20,313 total potential lots remain within the school district’s boundaries.

The district’s most recent bond package, an $86.7 million effort approved by voters in May 2008, includes a new middle school and two new elementary schools. The middle school, Red Simon Middle School, will be located about seven miles east of Interstate 35 on Highway 150 to relieve crowded conditions at three of the district’s existing middle schools, Dahlstrom, Chapa and Wallace. Simon Middle School is expected to open for the 2009-10 school year.

The two elementary schools in the 2008 bond package will be at sites to relieve Buda Elementary, Elm Grove Elementary, Science Hall Elementary and Tom Green Elementary School, which are in the general areas of the active developments.

Scherff said the school district should pay particular attention to apartment developments, which he characterized as a “wild card.” While Hays CISD generally figures on 0.75 students for every house, Scherff said apartments could added up to twice that many students per unit.

“It’s easy to see housing starts and make enrollment projections from that,” Hays CISD Superintendent Kirk London said. “It has been my experience, though, that we can double our projections with apartments. That’s what we’re going to have to watch. That’s what’s going to determine how we’re going to move forward in the future.”

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