Earlier this fall, LTISD officials celebrated the opening of the Lake Travis High School Annex, the final project in the district’s 2012 bond program. All projects contained in the $158.5 million program were completed on time and within budget. For District Senior Director for Facilities and Construction Jim Ratcliff, completion of the bond also meant the culmination of an amazing career in school architecture.
After three years in the U.S. Army, including a one-year deployment in Vietnam, Mr. Ratcliff returned home to Austin where he earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Texas. He would spend the next 30-plus years working in the private sector, mostly in the Houston area. Mr. Ratcliff joined LTISD in January 2005 at the request of a friend and colleague from Jim’s days in Houston, then superintendent Dr. Rocky Kirk.
“Back then, we had just over 5,000 students enrolled across the district,” Mr. Ratcliff recalled. “However, many of our schools were at capacity, and in the case of Lake Travis High School, we had exceeded our capacity. The school was originally built in 1988 to house 1500 students. When I got here (LTISD), there were more than 1600 students at the high school. We had a total of 37 portable classrooms at the high school, with 12 of those located in the area that is now the Cavalier Activity Center.”
To address the increase in student enrollment, Mr. Ratcliff was given just 10 days to complete a long range facilities master plan. The plan ultimately resulted in a $126.8 million school bond election approved by LTISD voters in September 2005. The five-year bond included the renovation and expansion of Lake Travis High School, construction of a fifth elementary school (Serene Hills), expansion of both Lake Travis and Hudson Bend middle schools, improvements to various athletic facilities, construction of a transportation facility/warehouse, and land acquisition in anticipation of future growth and facilities.
Today, student enrollment continues to rise each year, nearly doubling since Mr. Ratcliff began his tenure at LTISD to more than 9,200. With the completion of the 2006 and 2012 bond programs, the district’s current footprint is twice the size from the time he arrived, increasing from 942,000 to roughly 1.8 million square feet. In all, Mr. Ratcliff has managed more than $285 million in facilities construction during his time at LTISD.
“Without a doubt, Jim has done an amazing job for our district,” Johnny Hill said, LTISD Assistant Superintendent for Business, Financial and Auxiliary Service. “Many of our staff and the general public will never know the countless early mornings and late nights Jim spent at school board meetings, city council meetings and various committee meetings presenting architectural renderings, negotiating contracts, and getting permits approved that were critical to the facilities construction process. We are truly grateful for his efforts and lasting contributions.”
Upon his retirement, Mr. Ratcliff and his wife Trisha plan to spend more time with their daughter Cristen who currently lives in Tacoma, Washington.
“I leave this district with a real sense of fulfillment knowing that we have created substantial school facilities,” Mr. Ratcliff added. “We have been fortunate enough to work with some really talented architects and some really good contractors whose work has resulted in award-winning buildings and learning spaces that are both aesthetically pleasing and energy efficient. But there’s still much to be done. I have no doubt the district’s exemplary reputation for facilities construction and management will continue to be maintained and supported. We’re in good hands with Robert (Winovitch).”
Robert Winovitch will succeed Mr. Ratcliff as Director of Facilities and Construction in January 2016. With Mr. Ratcliff’s assistance, Mr. Winovitch is already hard at work on the district’s next bond program projected to go to voters in the fall of 2017.