HISD Plans to Preserve Schools’ Historical Architecture

Lamar High School was built in 1937 in a distinctive Art Deco style.

Lamar High School is known as a school that has graduated award-winning journalists and authors, and Nobel laureates and professional athletes over the years. While Houstonians embrace the school’s rich alumni culture, few realize that the building’s structure has its own legacy with a deeply rooted foundation in its surrounding community.

That’s why when HISD’s $1.89 billion bond program passed in November to rebuild or renovate 40 schools across the city, the district wanted to make sure Lamar and other bond campuses with significant architecture didn’t lose their historical integrity.

“This building is a landmark,” said Lamar Principal James McSwain. “There’s a strong heritage here, and the building helps reflect that.”

In addition to Lamar, the district has identified Milby High School, Austin High School and Davis High School as “architecturally significant buildings.” These schools include 1920s- and 1930s-era facades and are also considered culturally significant because of their uniqueness to the community.

Built in 1937, Lamar will get a new facility under the bond program. The construction will incorporate the school’s historic Depression Era Art Deco design, including a carved relief map of the state of Texas.

The entrance to the Lamar High School auditorium is decorated with a carved relief map of Texas.

“Through the bond construction, we have the ability to take an old building, respect its culture, background and history, and bring it into the 21st century,” McSwain said. “We are providing a high-quality structure to serve the needs of kids in the future.”

The bond construction will redo portions of the existing building on things like light fixtures and technology upgrades. The design of the new fixtures and lighting will be reflective of the original architecture of the building, maintaining the school’s historical appearance.

Although these campuses aren’t recognized on the National Historic Register, their communities and stakeholders believe they are neighborhood treasures and landmarks worth keeping, said Dan Bankhead, HISD’s general manager of Facilities Design.

“Part of why we’re saving theses buildings is because of their significance, importance and value to the community and what they symbolize,” Bankhead said.

Jorge Arredondo says students should know about their school’s culture. As principal at Austin High School, he says his students feel a strong connection with the traditions and legacy of the school.

“It is important for us to preserve the unique architecture of our school that has value to our students, alumni and community members,” Arredondo said.

Austin’s design is a modern interpretation of Jacobean architecture, popular during the Renaissance era. Arredondo plans to incorporate technology and “green” features while preserving the architectural structure the community values.

“This is a great opportunity for this community to transform and provide positive avenues to educate and inspire people in the community,” Arredondo said.

Design has begun for the first group of schools under the 2012 bond program, including Milby High School. Construction should be underway sometime in 2014, and open for students no later than 2017. The remaining three groups of school construction projects including Lamar, Davis and Austin High Schools will be phased in every year after that with all construction underway by 2017.