It was a big year for Big Spring Independent School District — about 300,000 square feet big, to be exact.
That's the approximate square footage of the four new elementary campuses christened by BSISD this year as part of a $60 million construction bond approved by voters two years ago. In addition to the new schools, the high school and junior high received considerable renovation.
The new elementaries are bigger, roomier, more secure and way more up-to-date than their predecessors and better positions the school district to meet the educational needs of students for decades to come, officials say.
“You're always looking for ways to engage students, and all these things are tools to help us do just that,” BSISD Superintendent Steven Saldivar said earlier this year. “Plus, to have something nice that you can take pride in means something … and we know that none of it would have been possible without the help of the people of this community.”
Saldivar had joined Big Spring ISD as assistant superintendent shortly before a 2008 school bond failed at the polls, and was elevated to the superintendent position not long afterward, and one of his top priorities was to bring another, more workable, bond proposal before the voters.
In 2010, the school district tried again. This time, instead of one big elementary campus that voters nixed in 2008, educators wanted to build three (later amended to four) smaller neighborhood schools and extensively renovate other campuses.
The price tag of $60 million was steep — almost doubling what the district asked for in 2008 — but the voters were far more receptive to the new proposal, approving it by a margin of greater than 60 percent.
Groundbreaking on the projects occurred in May 2011 and, in a somewhat unusual step, it was decided all four campuses would be built at the same time with an eye on opening the schools in time for the 2012-2013 school year.
The task of building four schools within a 14-month time frame was daunting, to say the least.
“This was an extremely compressed schedule,” said Lee Lewis, head of the construction firm that built the new schools. “To build four of these this fast in the same community, while you're fighting the oil field to find qualified workers … is probably the most difficult job we've ever done.
“We couldn't have done it without the architects and the school district working with us,” he added. “It's been a true team effort, one of the best I've ever seen.”
To save time and money, it was decided that all of the campuses would follow the same basic blueprint — each school would be a 75,000 square-foot building housing 27 classrooms, a gymnasium, library and a combination cafeteria/auditorium.
The schools opened on schedule Aug. 27 and educators loved what they saw.
“This is awesome — that's the word that keeps coming to mind,” Marcy Elementary Principal Rita Faulkner said. “We have a wonderful campus that kids are going to love. And if the kids love coming to school, they're going to learn.”