Year: 2016

Architect: A black box theater at Baca Center just won’t work

A black box theater at the Baca Center is a no go.

The architect hired to determine the feasibility of placing a small theater in the Grand Room of the Allen R. Baca Center for Senior and Community Affairs stated in a letter the facility “is inadequate to provide a professional level quality black box theater.”

Kirk Johnson of Corgan studied three options for a black box at Baca:

  • Placing a black box in the Grand Room at the Baca Center
  • Option 1, plus adding dressing rooms, makeup counters, a green room, technical booth areas, etc.
  • Building a black box theater at the loading dock area of the Baca Center

None of the options were feasible, when looking at 12 criteria examined by Corgan.

“The Baca Center functions well as a community center but has significant spatial, logistical and operational challenges as facility for a professional black box theater,” Johnson stated in a Sept. 29 letter to the City.

We first shared the exciting possibility of a black box in downtown in this Jan. 15, 2016, Quarry post.

The City will continue to look at options for a location for a black box theater, Arts and Culture Director Scot Wilkinson said.

“While we’re disappointed this option isn’t feasible, because it could have been completed relatively quickly and cost effectively, we are moving on,” Wilkinson said. “There are other possibilities we are now pursuing that are very promising. We need a performing arts venue in Round Rock.”

Imagine a Day Without Water

For this blog, I’m going to take a different approach and not talk specifically about conservation, but more about water in general.  The fact that most Americans take water, and the systems that bring it to and from homes and businesses, for granted. We turn on the tap, and safe drinking water reliably comes out. We flush the toilet, and don’t have to think twice about how that wastewater will be taken away and safely treated before it is returned to the environment.

But could you imagine a day without water?  Without safe, reliable water and wastewater service?

A day without water mean no water comes out of your tap to brush your teeth. When you flush the toilet, nothing happens. It means firefighters have no water to put out fires, farmers couldn’t water their crops, and doctors couldn’t wash their hands before they treat patients.

A day without water is nothing short of a crisis.

While unimaginable for most of us, there are communities that have lived without water, without the essential systems that bring water to and from their homes and businesses. The tragedy in Flint, Michigan has dominated news coverage for months. Epic drought in California has dried up ground water sources, causing some residents to relocate because they couldn’t live in a community without water. Overwhelmed wastewater systems have habitually forced beach closures along the Great Lakes because of unsanitary sewer runoff. Flooding and other natural disasters have knocked out water and wastewater service in communities from Texas to South Carolina to West Virginia.

America can do better.

The problems that face our drinking water and wastewater systems are multi-faceted. Systems have been underfunded for too long. The infrastructure is aging and in need of investment, while drought, flooding, and climate change all place extra pressure on our water and wastewater systems. Different regions face different water challenges, so the solutions to strengthen our drinking water and wastewater systems must be locally driven. But reinvestment in our water must be a national priority.

The good news is while the challenges are great, our capacity for innovation is greater.

Investing in our drinking water and wastewater systems, secures a bright and prosperous future for generations to come. We need to invest in our local water systems. Public officials at the local, state, and national level must prioritize investment in water, because no American should ever have to live a day without water.

Public private partnerships play an important role in building the drinking water and wastewater systems of tomorrow. Innovation is driving the water sector, and will allow us to build modern, energy efficient, and environmentally advanced systems that will sustain communities for generations to come.

None of this will be easy work, and nothing can be taken for granted. But water is too essential to ignore the crisis in front of us. We need to prioritize building stronger water and wastewater systems now so no community in America has to imagine living a day without water.

Here in Round Rock, we want to offer you, our residents, a peek into the City’s water infrastructure.  We’re hosting a free tour of the City’s water treatment plant on September 15, 2016, at 5:30pm.  Space is limited.  To sign up for the tour email the Water Plant Manager to reserve a spot and get directions.

We will also have tables at the Round Rock library on September 15th between 10am – 4pm to provide information and goodies about how to keep our water clean, abundant, and healthy.  There will be representatives from the City’s water utility, wastewater utility, water conservation, and stormwater programs available to talk to, ask questions to, and learn more about this resource we can’t live without!


Too cool for school

Michelle Cervantes, our Round Rock Library Director, pens a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader. This is a repost of her most recent feature.

Michelle Cervantes Library Director

Michelle Cervantes
Library Director

The past few months have been heated. Not just due to the hot weather, but because of politics, racism, strife, culture clash and loss.

Let’s get back on track and focus on something cool, like back to school.

Yes, you heard me right. I said school is cool. I learned this fact late in life, and I believe if I had known that back in the day, then my life would have been a whole lot easier.

Are you too cool for school? Well, we have options for you that offer non-traditional learning opportunities. Learning goes beyond a classroom and continuous improvement goes hand-in-hand with success. You should not stop learning or seeking knowledge just because you receive a diploma.

The first step is getting a library card. September is officially Library Card Sign-Up Month. All you need to do is bring your valid Texas issued identification with a current address, and we can set you up in a few minutes. Your library membership provides you with access to more than 180,000 items and 92 online digital resources.

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission is launching two new databases (online digital resources) this month. Soon you will be able to log into Pronunciator and Flipster.

Pronunciator teaches practical language skills through listening, speaking, reading, writing, grammar and culture. Courses for 80 languages are available, with up to 22 months of guided instruction per language. Pronunciator also provides citizenship preparation courses in English and Spanish with all these features available for Apple, Android and Kindle Fire devices.

Flipster is the next-generation digital magazine providing libraries with access to magazines in a digital format. We currently subscribe to Mango Languages and Zinio magazines and look forward to comparing them to Pronunciator and Flipster. Let us know what you think.

Along with the thousands of items we have available for continuing education, we also host a variety of free classes. This week we have a small business workshop, A+ certification course, English-as-a-Second-Language classes, health and wellness class and financial literacy workshop. Visit our web calendar for complete details:

How big a slice of your pie do City taxes take?

Our finance folks have put together a great infographic to answer that question.

Avg Household Monthly Expenses

We think this chart offers some nice perspective. So while the owner of an average value home will see their City taxes go up by a little over $6 a month (check out this helpful Budget Highlights document for details), we think we deliver good value for your dollar.

The City Council will make its second and final reading vote on the budget and tax rate at its Thursday, Sep. 8, meeting.

For a high-level look at the budget, we think this video might CATch your fancy. (Ahem.)

Great quality of life? Yep, Round Rock’s got you covered!

Quality of Life RRTX Web

When your community is filled with family-friendly fun, delicious dining, destination shopping, exciting sports, great neighborhoods, impeccable parks, A+ schools and so, so much more, it’s not too surprising to see it end up on all sorts of great rankings.

And although we aren’t surprised, we’re still a little giddy to see Round Rock listed as one of Business Insider’s top 25 cities with the best quality of life in the US.

Coming in at No. 10, and edging out our high-profile neighbor to the south (hint: “Live Music Capital of the World”), Round Rock is one of two Texas cities to crack the top ten and one of seven to make the list. Others Texans include Denton (25), The Woodlands (24), Irving (21), Richardson (19), Austin (18) and Plano (3).

Here are the top 10:

  1. Bellevue, Washington
  2. Alexandria, Virginia
  3. Plano, Texas
  4. Overland Park, Kansas
  5. Sunnyvale, California
  6. Ann Arbor, Michigan
  7. Naperville, Illinois
  8. Cambridge, Massachusetts
  9. Fort Collins, Colorado
  10. Round Rock, Texas

So, how’d Business Insider come up with these high-falutin rankings anyway? Well, they compiled data collected by Niche for their latest Places to Live rankings, including “Safest Cities,” “Cities with the Best Job Opportunities,” “Healthiest Cities,” and “Best Cities to Raise a Family.” You can read the full methodology here.

And if all that’s not enough, or if you’ve just been hiding under a rock (potentially the one we’re named after) for the past few months, we compiled a gallery listing a few more accolades Round Rock has recently received:

Flying cars and libraries. The future includes both

Michelle Cervantes Library Director

Michelle Cervantes
Library Director

What will the library of tomorrow look like? Will libraries exist in the future?

I’ve been in the library business for over two decades, and I am still asked the question about the existence of libraries in the future. When I started working in a public library, it was at the same time that the Internet was becoming mainstream.

There was talk that the Internet would kill libraries and that everything would be accessible via the Internet. As with the prediction of flying cars, I am still waiting for this so-called end of libraries. But unlike flying cars — which, by the way, according to Forbes Magazine are supposed to go on sale next year — the end of libraries is nowhere in sight.

On the contrary, libraries are booming! From state-of-the-art academic libraries like the James B. Hunt Jr. Library on the North Carolina State University campus in Raleigh, N.C., to the BiblioTech, first digital public library in Bexar County, Texas, this is an exciting time for libraries and library users.

I recently had the privilege to visit the Hunt Library. This is an award-winning building and is considered by many to be “The Library of the Future.” It is impressive. The university invested $115 million and allocated 220,000 square feet of space for its second main campus library.

One feature that makes this library unique is the bookBot. When you walk in the front entrance, you will notice the vast lobby that includes an interactive exhibit hall. To the right, you can look through the ceiling-to-floor window that frames the library’s collection of books accessible by the bookBot, an automated robotic book delivery system that holds up to 2 million volumes in one-ninth the space of conventional shelving.

The rest of the library space is dedicated to group-study rooms and technology-equipped spaces that support and enable learning, research and collaboration. The top level of the library has open study space surrounded by windows with views of Lake Raleigh and the city skyline.

If you are ever in the Raleigh-Durham area, I highly recommend you stop by the Hunt Library and then have lunch at the Tupelo Honey Café.

I have yet to visit the BiblioTech Library, but I have been closely following the success of this project from the beginning and had the opportunity to meet the head librarian. This library and its staff have received worldwide recognition for the unconventional design, customer service philosophy and innovative programming.

BiblioTech was the brainchild of Bexar County Judge Nelson W. Wolff. After reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, Judge Wolff had a “Eureka!” moment. Something clicked, and he connected the needs of the community to creating the first all-digital library.

In an unprecedented move, a team took the idea and made it a reality in less than 12 months. BiblioTech opened on Sept. 14, 2013, welcoming in 1,100 patrons on its first day. Today, there are three locations to serve Bexar County residents.

What will tomorrow hold for the Round Rock Public Library? We are in the process of finding a location for the new main library and a branch library. With your help, we will design a library for Round Rock’s bright future.

Recommended Sci-Fi reads

What Michelle is reading now: “The Last Adventure of Constance Verity,” by A. Lee Martinez

Top 7 family-friendly activities before school starts

can-t-keep-calm-summer-s-almost-overThose of us with school-age kids have started the countdown. School starts Tuesday, Aug. 23, in the Round Rock ISD.

But summer’s not over yet!

Here’s a quick list of what you can do before that first bell rings.

  1. Hit one of the City’s pools. If you haven’t been to the expanded Rock’N River yet, what are you waiting for? Regular hours, noon to 7 p.m. (closed Wednesdays) end Aug. 21. Micki Krebsbach Pool closes for the season on Aug. 14.
  2. Enjoy more wet fun at the Library’s Splash Mob, set for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 8, at Prete Main Street Plaza.
  3. If movies are your thing, we’ve got you covered, again at Prete Main Street Plaza. Movies in the Park — this time with live music — is set for Aug. 3 (Tangled), Aug. 10 (Zootopia) and Aug. 17 (The Goonies).
  4. The Round Rock Express have a pair of home stands at Dell Diamond before school starts back up, Aug. 7-10, and Aug. 20-23.
  5. Sports not your thing? No problem. ArtSpace in Downtown Round Rock will feature an Artists Interpret Red exhibit in August.
  6. Just a few more opportunities to catch The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at the Sam Bass Theater, Aug. 4, 5, 11, 13.
  7. Last, but certainly not least, is the Car Show at Centennial Plaza on Sunday, Aug. 21.

Light, Type of Heads, and Beds, Oh My!

Today’s blog talks about what is the most important aspects of irrigation, but probably the most overlooked. SmartIrrMonth I’m referring to efficient scheduling of the irrigation system, based on the amount of sunlight in your yard, the sprinkler head type, and to a lesser degree, the plant types in your yard.

These three items require some consideration when entering in how many minutes you are setting each station for—there’s no point in having specialized heads, a shady yard, and native plants if everything is going to run for 20 minutes no matter what it is.  Unfortunately, I see that happen a lot.  Then folks wonder why areas are brown or plants are dying.  (There’s also the consideration of soil type and soil depth; we’re not going to get into that here, but it certainly does play a huge role in irrigation amounts.)

grass st augustine

shade means less water needed

Amount of Light

It may seem obvious, but I’m going to come out and say it anyway—shady areas require less water than sunny areas.  If you have good tree coverage and areas of the yard receive less than 6 hours of direct sunlight daily, that’s considered a shady yard.  The narrow, sides of our houses qualify for this designation.  Full sun areas need more water, usually; this is dependent on what the plant type is here.   So, when entering time into your controller, you know that the times should be higher for the sunny spots and lower for the shady ones.

Head Type

As I’ve talked about in an earlier blog, there are two main sprinkler head typesrotor and spray.  There is also drip irrigation, which technically has no head at all!  Rotor heads, if you remember, rotate, so they are not watering the same area the entire time they are running, therefore, they need to run for a longer period of time than spray heads.  The minimum I typically recommend running them for is 15 minutes, and that’s in a shady area.  Usually between 25-35 minutes is a good time for sunnier areas with turfgrass.

Since spray heads are stationary, they pop-up and stay watering the same spot the entire time, they can run for a shorter amount of time than rotors.  I usually recommend between 6 -15 minutes for those stations, depending on the plant material and amount of sunlight, with the 15 minutes being for areas in full sun and turfgrass.

Drip irrigation is different.  Drip typically emits water very slowly, very minimally, so it oftentimes needs to run for longer periods—30 minutes at minimum or much longer in many cases.  I caution you to know how many gallons per minute your drip is using before you just set it for an hour.  I’ve seen drip that was using 20 gallons per minute, which is just as much as “traditional” spray zones!  Unfortunately it caused very high water usage at the property before it was discovered.

3110 Carnousty St6

rocks and native plants mean less water

Plant Material

Landscape material is the last component of the irrigation scheduling trifecta.  Landscape could include turfgrass, trees, shrubs, groundcovers, perennials, flower beds, annuals, natural areas (like tree motts), bare ground, rocks, and I’m sure many other things.  It may be obvious as well, but it does need to be said—areas with no vegetation really don’t need to be watered.  The bare ground will just be muddy.  Same goes for rocky paths, they don’t grow.  Mulched areas don’t grow.  Driveways, sidewalks, patios, and decks don’t grow.  Pools don’t need to be filled by the sprinklers (I’ve seen plenty of sprinkler heads spraying directly into pools!).  Trees have usually been growing there longer than you’ve lived there, so they typically don’t need the extra water.

Native plants, established shrubs, or other established perennials do not, I repeat, do not need the same amount of water as the grass.  That’s why you’ve planted them—they are native!  They are made for our climate and weather conditions.  They will survive without being irrigated twice per week.  I can’t count how many times I see native plants being watered more than the grass.  It’s counter intuitive to the reason for using natives.  So, turn those stations off completely and just water when they look completely stressed out.  (I’ll get down from my soapbox now.)


natural areas don’t need extra water

I like to recommend that people put the stations that are shrubs or plants on a different program than the grass stations and set them to water once every other week (if needed; if there’s been no rain).  If you want to keep the shrub stations on the same program as the rest of the yard, reduce the time on those stations.  I recommended between 6-8 minutes regardless of if it’s sun or shade.  They really just don’t need it.  Many natives do best in dry, hot conditions and die with too wet soil.

Turfgrass is a little tricky too.  A lot of Bermuda grass gets planted here, yet is watered just as much as any other grass (namely, St Augustine).  What I said about native plants is true about Bermuda too, you’re growing it because it’s drought tolerant: it doesn’t need to be watered as much.  Bermuda grass that’s overwatered tends to get a lot of weeds growing in it.  If you have Bermuda, I recommend cutting back the watering time to once per week.  Let it perform.  Yes, Bermuda goes dormant in times of drought, but it’s not dead.  It will green up when it rains or receives irrigation.  It looks better with rainwater though.  Also, Bermuda is not going to survive in shady areas, it will thin out and eventually die.  It requires full sun to really thrive.

St Augustine grass has such a bad reputation as a water hog, but I don’t buy into it.  It’s not setting the controller, the yard owners are!  St Augustine does great in areas with partial sun or partial shade.  I’ve seen it look really good in full sun too, with less water than you may think.  It will also thin out in full shade areas, but does better than most grasses.  Ideally, St Augustine should be kept at 3-4” tall when it’s being cut to keep the soil from drying out.  I water my St Augustine yard with rotor heads for 20 minutes and it’s looking great.

You may have picked up that there’s no exact time that works for every station or even every yard!  Irrigation systems unfortunately aren’t just a turn it on and forget it device.  It will take a little tweaking to determine how many minutes the yard will perform well on, and it may need to be changed every year as the trees grow and give out more shade.

I have some specific recommendations on runtimes; you can access it here.  It’s a good place to start, when setting your controller runtimes, then make changes from there if areas may need more or less water.

Let’s keep using our water smartly!

Water, by the numbers

summer is here(Cue the sax for the Glenn Frey classic.)

The heat is on.

We’ve reached that point where we’re in the midst of our first consecutive triple-digit temperature days of the year. It happens every summer and when it does, we at the City think about water.

Numbers tell a lot of the water story, so let’s dip our toes into it with this:

  • Our highest water use day ever was Aug. 7, 2011, when we produced 42.05 million gallons
  • Our highest water use day this year was Wednesday, July 13, when we produced 30.6 million gallons

For those of you new to the area, 2010-2011 was the hottest, driest 12-month-period in Texas history.

The folks at our water treatment plant, who sweat these details for a living, note the impact of rainfall and temperature on water production.

  2011 2015
Rainfall (inches) 14.75 46.96
Days with temperature above 100 degrees 59 9
Annual Water Production (billions of gallons) 8.744 6.822
System Peak Day (millions of gallons) use 42.05 37.953


Other numbers you’ll want to familiarize yourself with are our block water rates. This time of year, the more water you use, the more expensive it gets.

Inclined Block Water Rates Chart_2016_1-13-16

Wondering what you can do to stay out of those upper tiers? Jessica Woods, our water conservation specialist, teamed up with Multimedia Specialist Brian Ligon (of Ron Pitchman fame) to create an award-winning series of Water Wise videos (15, to be exact) with plenty of helpful how-to’s.

Those some water conservation folks offer rebate programs to help you save even more water. Of course, we’ve got some numbers for you on this, too!

Toilet rebates are available to properties built prior to Jan. 1, 2006. We began the program in June 2010, and it has run off and on since then.

  • We’ve rebated a total of 1,003 people for 1,573 toilets
  • The average rebate is $77.85 per toilet
  • We estimate the new toilets result in about 4.7 million gallons of water saved annually!
  • $123,658.29 has been awarded in rebates since the start of this program.

Irrigation system upgrade rebates were implemented in June 2010. We haven’t had a ton of participation, simply because not everyone owns a sprinkler system and not everyone can afford to make upgrades. It’s also the program that’s the most involved (aka complicated).

  • To date have had 197 participants. Average rebate amount is $256.31. It’s hard to accurately estimate water savings.
  • This year has had the highest participation, with the majority of participants upgrading their irrigation system controller to weather-based controllers that automatically adjust their settings based on local weather conditions.
  • $47,094.70 has been awarded in rebates

Clothes washers account for 22 percent of water used in homes. We started this rebate program in December 2012.

  • So far, 291 new washers rebated
  • Average rebate is $81.70
  • Assuming the new efficient washer is replacing an old front-loading washer (and not another efficient washer), we estimate an annual water savings of 3.4 million to 3.9 million gallons of water a year! (Or 12,000-13,500 gallons per washer annually)
  • $23,775 has been awarded since the start of the program.

Rain Water Harvesting is a nice way to use what Mother Nature provides when it does rain, and folks do seem to love this program.

  • We have had 233 participants collecting a total of 61,267 gallons of water with each rain event!
  • The City has hosted six rain barrel sales the past four years, with 1,800 barrels sold. Not all of those who purchased barrels live in Round Rock, so we don’t have a big water savings number for this. Barrel capacity amounts range from 50 gallons to 200 gallons.
  • $20,881 has been awarded in rebates

Lawn Aeration promotes deeper root growth and helps reduce water runoff, both which help reducing the amount of water used on landscapes.

  • Super popular program with 412 participants in the first year!
  • $18,934 has been rebated since the start of the program.

Last, but certainly not least, we’ve got the numbers for the Irrigation System Evaluations that Jessica started on Aug. 7, 2009, shortly after she was hired.

  • She’s conducted a total of 767 evaluations on 842 controllers. (Some places have more than one controller). Seventy-five of those controllers were at non-residential properties.
  • If everyone she’s evaluated followed her recommendations on their watering schedule, we (the City) would save approximately 7.8 million gallons per month during the watering season! There’s a lot of overwatering happening.
  • Average reduction is 10,586 gallons per month per her recommendation
  • Biggest problem Jessica sees is overwatering of native plants, with people watering them just as much or even more than turf grass. Native plants can handle much less water, or even no water, compared to grass.

And if you’re a fan of blog posts (if you’re still reading this deep, you surely are!) be sure to keep up with The Water Spot, another great way Jessica helps us all with Round Rock’s No. 1 priority this time of year.


10 ways to enjoy the arts in Round Rock this summer!

Free arts and cultural events in July! The arts are happening everywhere in Round Rock this summer, and with this list, you’re sure not to miss a second of the action!

1. Take an early morning or evening stroll through the thirty-plus art sculptures located at Prete Plaza, Downtown, Centennial Plaza and Chisholm Crossing. Brochures are available at ArtSpace or at City Hall front desk.

art collage

2. Have dinner in Downtown Round Rock and then go see the Penfold Theatre presentation of Shakespeare’s COMEDY OF ERRORS at Centennial Plaza’s Amphitheater. This under-the-stars theater event takes place Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. the entire month of July!

play collage

3. Wander over to Memorial Park and the Sam Bass Community Theatre presentation of INTO THE WOODS AND SWEENEY TODD, Junior Editions. Join the fun on Thursday, Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday Matinees at 2:00 p.m. Details:

sam bass memorial play summer

4. Beat the heat and stay inside while taking in some big art! Round Rock Arts presents The Big Show art exhibition that is now on display through August 25 at Texas State University Round Rock Campus, 1555 University in Round Rock.

big show

5. Find The Little Show at ArtSpace, downtown’s art gallery at 231 East Main, Suite 160, in Round Rock. ArtSpace celebrates in conjunction with THE BIG SHOW of their own exhibit called THE LITTLE SHOW for the month of July.

little show collage

6. Round Rock Public Library has an art gallery! When picking out your favorite book to read for their summer reading program, stop by the art gallery and view the current art exhibit. 

read get set

7. Art using Alcohol Ink at the Williamson County Jester Annex, another free art exhibition of wonderful artists works. Just because you’re not renewing your car registration doesn’t mean you can’t check out this great little exhibit! Check it out at 1801 Old Settlers Boulevard in Round Rock.

alc ink collage

8. Visit the Palm House Museum (beside the Round Rock Public Library) at 212 East Main in Round Rock for a little art history! The Palm House, the oldest building on Main Street, was moved to this location in 1976 from the Palm Valley area. The house is a well-preserved example of an early frontier building style: a central door and entry passage with one roughly square room on either side. The porch runs the length of the house and the roof is steeply pitched.  This historic house displays two furnished rooms of the 1873 home of Swedish immigrant Andrew Palm. The house was moved here from the Swedish Palm Valley settlement east of town.

palm house collage

9. If you’re still strolling, walk by the Nelson-Crier House (Woodbine Mansion) located at 405 E. Main Street in Round Rock. It was built 1895-1900 and remodeled 1931. This house is probably the most interesting house in Round Rock. The building originally was in a Queen Anne style with a three-story turret at the northeast corner, but was later remodeled to a neoclassical style with an Ionic-columned porch. The foundation of the turret remains as a large patio.

nelson house collage

10. Finally, for a little history and culture: Visit the Round Rock Cemetery.  Established in the early 1850s in what is now known as Old Round Rock, this cemetery is the burial ground of many area pioneers and outstanding Round Rock citizens. The oldest legible tombstone, which marks the burial site of 11-year-old Angeline Scott, bears the year 1851, although there are many unmarked graves that could date from before that time.

cemetary collage