This article has been updated.

A group of local architectural firms is concerned that San Antonio Independent School District may be sending millions of dollars to cities like Austin and Houston after the school board voted to hire several out-of-town firms to design the school district’s projects approved in its $1.3 billion bond.

Seven of the 21 architectural engineering firms SAISD hired do not have offices in San Antonio, but the other 14 firms either are based in the city or have a local office. District officials said they selected the firms through a lengthy process that considered many factors, including the firms’ previous experience with SAISD, and that out-of-town firms will still benefit the San Antonio economy by hiring local consultants.

SAISD voters approved the bond package in November that includes $1.21 billion in school renovations at 36 campuses and $90 million to address technology needs for the school district. The $1.21 billion will go toward renovating 21 schools with main buildings that have not been fully refurbished in more than 50 years and completing campus renovations at 15 campuses that were partially renovated under the 2016 and 2010 bonds.

Last week, four local architectural firms wrote a letter to the school board asking it to reconsider the firms it selected for the projects in favor of local firms that are “more broadly and deeply inclusive of the San Antonio community of architects.”

“The tremendous progress SAISD has made in the last 25+ years is reflected in the approval of the 2016 and 2020 Bond Programs and the raising of property taxes to fund them,” stated the letter from Alamo Architects, Beaty Palmer Architects, NextGen Architects, and RVK Architects. “This progress could not have happened without broad and deep Community support. San Antonio’s Architectural and Engineering community has been supportive of all three initiatives. Local architects and engineers hire SAISD alumni and students and provide sponsorships and volunteers for design and construction programs.”

Alamo Architects will design a renovation project for Tafolla Middle School, and NextGen Architects will design a project at Bowden Academy.

Most of the firms selected – 15 of 21 – had worked with the district before, said Kedrick Wright, executive director of planning and construction. The district considered the quality of work the firms previously did for SAISD when selecting which ones to recommend to the board. The firms will produce designs for the 36 campus renovation projects.

“We certainly want to provide the best possible education facilities for our students, as well as making sure that as much as possible that the local San Antonio economy benefits from these new campuses,” Wright said.

He estimated that about 80% of the total fees that will be paid to the architectural engineering firms will remain in San Antonio because out-of-town firms likely will hire local consultants, such as engineers who know the city’s building code. That amounts to about $41 million of $52 million total, according to Wright.

Mike McGlone, a founding principal of Alamo Architects, said the fact that local consultants will be hired is no consolation to him.

“There is no one better to serve our local communities than the professionals in their local community,” he said. “I find it appalling that they will expect us to support both financially and politically a bond program and then essentially turn around and slap us in the face and say, ‘You’re not good enough.’ They’re not saying that, but the message is very clear.”

But SAISD school board President Patti Radle said that was not the intent of the board’s decision. Staff recommended many firms who had done work for the 2016 bond package, which would make it easier for them to finish work on the campuses that were not fully renovated in the previous bonds.

Radle said the district tried to strike a balance between getting the best value for students while also supporting local talent and being good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.

“As a board, our first concern is taking a look at it from the benefits of the student position,” Radle said. “We want to have advocacy for our local [firms], but we also want to make sure that we’re supporting the best advice from staff.”

Of the 36 projects, 24 were awarded to San Antonio-based firms or firms that have offices in town. The seven firms that don’t have local offices include DLR Group, Autoarch Architects, Kirksey Architecture, VLK Architects, Moody Nolan, Perkins & Will, and Harrison Kornberg. DLR Group and Perkins & Will are international firms with offices in Dallas, Austin, and Houston.

Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum is the San Antonio Report's education reporter.