As the Houston Independent School District moves forward with planning for the 2012 bond program to renovate, build, or replace 40 schools, work is under way to finish all the projects in the 2007 bond program over the next two years.
As of January, more than 77 percent of the approved work in the 2007 bond program was complete. Among the milestones are 20 new schools open for students, including Berry Elementary School, which offers a hands-on science garden and two environmental science instruction labs.
By 2014, the district will have 23 new schools. Two other campuses, Crockett and Valley West elementary schools, have been renovated and expanded.
Although new schools are often the highlights of any bond program, the $805 million in funding approved by voters in 2007 included more than 180 construction and renovation projects across the district.
Some of the projects were relatively small, such as the installation of 87,000 security cameras on campuses or upgraded restrooms. But the scope of work across the district has had a big impact, according to Dan Bankhead, HISD’s general manager for Facility Design.
The overall goal of the 2007 bond program was to replace deteriorated and outdated school facilities, relieve overcrowding at various campuses, and renovate and repair aging facilities throughout the district to address safety concerns, accessibility requirements, and deferred maintenance issues.
“We really have improved the learning environment at several campuses through better comfort and fixing deferred maintenance problems,” Bankhead said. “We’re proud to have produced several award-winning facilities.”
Among those facilities is Piney Point Elementary School, which replaced a 50-year-old building, and now has a capacity of 1,000 students. The new building in southwest Houston features a large multi-purpose cafeteria that doubles as a high-tech gymnasium.
Because so much of the 2007 bond program focused on elementary schools, HISD officials decided in 2012 to ask voters to put bond dollars to work on the district’s high schools.
The $1.89 billion program approved in November will rebuild or replace 40 schools across the city, including 29 high schools, many of which are more than 50 years old and cost-prohibitive to maintain.
So while the 2012 bond program is more than twice the dollar amount of the 2007 bond program, the scope of work is targeted to fewer schools. Still, building a new high school for as many as 3,100 teenagers is a decidedly different challenge than building a large elementary school, many of which serve no more than 750 K-5 students. In particular, new high schools demand more space and specialized infrastructure to support unique educational programs.
“The 2012 bond program is a new direction,” Bankhead said. “These projects will address the district’s needs on high school campuses.”
Even so, the two bond programs share some common ground, including the emphasis on providing technologically up-to-date and environmentally sustainable learning environments.
Schools built under the 2007 bond program were designed to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. Key features in LEED schools include water-conserving plumbing fixtures and energy-efficient HVAC systems and controls. They also maximize the use of natural light.
“The energy savings that come from green schools is significant for the district,” Bankhead said. “In the times when budgets are being cut back, that helps.”
One such school is Herod Elementary, which opened a new building in 2011 in southwest Houston for 750 students. The school, built to LEED standards, offers new technology in every classroom, as well as outdoor areas for learning.
“The new campus is a source of pride in a community that truly values education,” says Herod Principal William Johnson. “The technology enhancements are helping Herod teachers further engage our students with interactive lessons.”
The three other new schools funded by the 2007 bond program that are currently under construction include Sherman/Crawford, Atherton, and Scott/Dogan elementaries.
Renovations and repairs are still ongoing at over 20 campuses across the district.