District’s Blueprint Archives a Resource for Architects in Bond Program

HISD Senior CAD Designer Gregory Poitier is attempting to digitize the district’s archives for preservation and easier access.

When HISD’s Condit Elementary moved into its new building in 1914, it became the first public school in Houston’s Bellaire neighborhood. Ninety-nine years and several renovations later, it remains in the same building, surrounded by new houses, schools and businesses.

To view the transformation of Condit and other HISD campuses across a century and more, pay a visit to the district’s archive room. Located in HISD’s Construction and Facility Services Building on Center Street, the archives contain thousands of blueprints for district buildings, organized alphabetically by elementary, middle and high schools — dating back to 1912.

“Everything the district owns is in this room,” HISD’s Senior CAD Designer Gregory Poitier said.

HISD staff, as well as engineers and architecture firms, visit the archive room often to assess school designs and determine methods to fix daily problems, including leaks and foundation issues.

The archive room is expected to get even more traffic as the 2012 bond program to build or renovate 40 schools gets under way. Consider Yates High School on Sampson Street, which is slated for a $59.4 million replacement.

Since its original construction in 1958, Yates has already seen extensive additions and renovations. All of those changes are reflected in the rolls of blueprints collected over the years.

Gensler architect Mark Sullivan is already familiar with the archive room. He visited it during the 2007 bond project when designing the new Berry Elementary School, which opened in the fall of 2011.

“It has been a great resource,” said Sullivan, who looked at the school’s original plumbing and foundation to assist in the planning of the new school and the demolition of the old one. “I used whatever information I could to give us an idea of what to expect.”

He said Gensler architects will be visiting the archive room again, this time to look at Waltrip High School in Oak Forest, which is slated for partial replacement and general renovations. The company was just awarded the contract for the school’s design.

The blueprints in the archives room are not only of practical use but have historical value — as a way to keep tabs on a district that has grown from fewer than 10,000 students in 1927 to more than 200,000 today.

Some of the schools in the archives no longer exist, like Cleveland Elementary, which opened in 1927 on Jackson Hill and closed 50 years later. Other schools like Franklin Elementary School on Canal Street have gone through five or more renovations or repairs, including in 1972 when the campus got central air conditioning.

Although HISD has maintained the integrity of the original blueprints, Poitier has been working to get electronic copies of the blueprints scanned into a database for safety and easier access for users.

“The ultimate goal is to create a digital database. That way if something happens, we won’t lose the documents,” Poitier said. “If we have electronic copies, we’d have a safe haven for our drawings.”

Poitier said many of the blueprints are old and fragile, and digitizing them will not only preserve them but will save time for users.

According to Poitier, it would be costly to redraw the archives if they were severely damaged by water or fire. He said it would also be impossible to recapture the design features under the ground.

“There’s no way to retrieve that information,” he said. “When it’s gone, it’s gone.”