Case Studies

Rick Martin – Little Elm ISD

Construction director helps Little Elm ISD expand in big ways

With 29,000 acres and 233 miles of shoreline, Lewisville Lake is one of the largest lakes in northern Texas. It offers an abundance of parks, beaches and campgrounds with plenty of areas for fishing, boating, water skiing and swimming.

The Lewisville Lake area is also home to the rapidly growing Little Elm Independent School District, which is one of Texas’ most uniquely shaped—and fastest growing—school districts.

Little Elm ISD serves the communities of Little Elm, Frisco, Hackberry, Lakewood Village, Oak Point and The Colony, all set on six peninsulas extending along 62 miles of shoreline.

In the five years Rick Martin has been the district’s executive director of construction, he’s seen enrollment increase by 2,000 students. Little Elm ISD currently has about 8,300 students attending its pre-K program, six elementary schools, two middle schools and Little Elm High School. Enrollment is expected to reach 9,400 students by 2026 and 10,500 students by 2031.

Rick Martin | Executive Director of Construction | Little Elm ISD

Rick Martin | Executive Director of Construction | Little Elm ISD

Making room for the burgeoning enrollments has kept Martin and his staff busy as they oversaw the opening of two new middle schools in 2020. They’re now embarking on projects to expand Little Elm High School and build two new elementary schools with funding from a $289.5 million bond district voters approved in November 2022.

“We’re making Little Elm ISD a destination district,” Martin says. “When people move to the Metroplex area, they’re looking for good schools and education. We’re making sure everyone is aligned towards the same project goals to meet the needs of the teachers so they can best educate the students. All facilities must be safe, secure and provide an excellent learning environment.”

Students keep coming

Little Elm High School will be expanded to accommodate 3,500 students, an increase of 1,000. When speaking with Blueprint in April, Martin said he expected the design and planning process to take at least 10 months and construction to take a year to 14 months after that.

“We manage all aspects from concept to construction documents to weekly meetings on-site throughout construction,” Martin says. “We procure start up supplies, furniture and equipment. We manage the movement of teachers by getting their supplies and curriculum from old campuses into the new spaces. It’s a very collaborative effort from start to finish.”

Martin was part of the public outreach to pass the November 2022 five-year bond proposal plan, which was approved by 65 percent of district voters. Approval came after voters turned down a 10-year, $398 million bond package in May 2022.

Rick Martin | Executive Director of Construction | Little Elm ISD

He works with architects and contractors who are secured and vetted by the school district for detailed construction documentation and construction, but Martin developed the master plan guiding the construction timetable as well as the preliminary construction plans for the bond referendum questions.

Those plans call for adding as many as 40 new high school classrooms, built in multi-story wings extending from the existing building. The wings could also be expanded in the future, if needed. The new classrooms will be complemented by new science labs and a storm shelter large enough for the entire campus.

Little Elm High School will also expand its athletic facilities with an added gym facility that will be used for physical education classes and cheerleading and color guard flag practices as well as competitive events.

Two new elementary schools, each with a 900-student capacity, will be built concurrently with the high school expansion, although the work will be done on a staggered schedule. The schools will have new and similar designs using two stories, with older students attending classes on the second floor. The campuses are expected to open in fall 2025 and 2026 and will include storm shelters.

The bond also funds adding second playgrounds to existing elementary schools. Outdated equipment will be replaced on playgrounds currently in use and they’ll be made more accessible. Little Elm ISD will add more elementary schools over the next decade as demand requires and if voters approve funding.

Not his first bond rodeo

Little Elm ISD voters have approved more than $500 million in bonds for school construction in a little more than six years. In November 2017, a $235 million bond package to build Lowell H. Strike Middle School and Jerry R. Walker Middle School was approved.

They were the first new, fully dedicated middle schools built in the district and classroom spaces can be combined for collaborative learning by retracting glass walls. Bond money also funded improvements to athletic facilities at the high school.

Rick Martin | Executive Director of Construction | Little Elm ISD

The middle school construction incorporated features for energy efficiency and security that will also be part of the district’s new and expanded schools. Those include energy-efficient HVAC systems with digital controls to manage energy use in individual classes, LED lighting and motion sensors to control lighting. There will also be ionizers to purify circulating air.

To bolster security, all campuses will have secured vestibules at the main entrances to control public access; these will also have weapons detection devices. Classrooms will have doors that are always locked from the outside. Windows will be lined with impact film to protect against intruders. Exterior doors will have electronic locks and sensors and be numbered to better direct responders to emergency scenes.

Schooled in education construction

A native of Tennessee, Martin worked in the hospitality industry after earning his bachelor’s degree in engineering technology from Memphis State University in 1975. He came to Texas while working for Embassy Suites hotels in the 1980s, but says he got tired of the travel his work required.

Martin says his first opportunity to direct a school district’s construction projects “fell into his lap” when he joined Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD north of Fort Worth in March 2009. As is the case in Little Elm ISD, the district was expanding after voters approved a bond.

Rick Martin | Executive Director of Construction | Little Elm ISD

“It was an easy transition for me,” Martin says. “A hotel can equate to school construction because of the individual rooms as well as common and dining areas. I just needed to understand the state construction requirements and program needs for educational facilities.”

After the projects were completed, Martin joined Dallas ISD as district program administrator in November 2012. While working in education, he also consulted and was executive advisor on several international resort projects for the Global Resort Development Group.

“I prefer to do things on the sidelines and not be in front of the camera,” Martin says of his work. “But it’s a lot of fun and gratifying to create a concept, see it get developed and built and see people use it the way it was intended to be used.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VI 2023 Edition here.

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