2-Day Workshop Focuses on New Designs for 4 High Schools

Four HISD high schools slated to be rebuilt under the 2012 bond program hit a milestone Thursday when their projects officially moved into the design phase.

“This is an exciting event,” Dan Bankhead, HISD’s general manager of Facilities Design, told a group of about 75 people involved in the planning of the new Furr, Sterling, Sharpstown and Lee high schools. “We’re getting ready to set the course for our program.”

“We think it’s going to lead to some outstanding 21st century environments for our kids,” he said.

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The district formally kicked off the design process by holding a two-day workshop, intended to help each school’s community work together with their architects, program managers and HISD administrators to come up with the big concepts they would like included in their new buildings.  Bankhead also urged the groups to collaborate on shared challenges, such as where the front door of the new schools might be or dealing with busy streets and cramped sites.

“There is no criticism of ideas,” Bankhead told the audience. “This is a work session.”

Participants in the event, which concludes on Friday, rolled up their sleeves and got to work, talking about flexible spaces,  collaborative learning and the details of traffic patterns.

“We get a lot of congestion with the buses and the parents all trying to drop off,” said Nelly White, the former PTA president at Furr High School and now a member of the school’s Project Advisory Team.  As Furr architects referred to a three-dimensional model of the existing school, the group considered different strategies to improve access to the new building.

“We don’t want to shut the door on anything,” said Eli Ochoa of ERO Architects, the firm selected to design the new $55.1 million school for up to 1,300 students in east Houston.

Members of the Sterling High School Project Advisory Team, meanwhile, were discussing their thoughts on how to create a building that will fulfill the school’s mission of offering a first-rate aviation magnet program.

“We’re looking for spaces where students can collaborate on a different level,” said PAT member Rais Hickman, as the group considered what sorts of shared spaces they want in their new facility, located in southeast Houston near Hobby Airport.

Scotty Denney, the project designer for the architectural firm of SHW, said his team would incorporate all the ideas into some concepts for the group to consider during the second day of the design charrette. “It’s really about trying to make the best school we can,” he said. “It’s really exciting.”

For Sharpstown High School, the Project Advisory Team discussed incorporating common spaces, much like the classic shopping mall, in addition to creating a greater connection with the outdoors.

Maarcelin Kamdoum, a Lee High School sophomore, said the workshop helped see what was possible for his new school, where he’d like to see a lot of “flexibility and innovation.”

Thursday’s event marked the first of several upcoming design charrettes. The Mandarin Chinese Language Immersion Magnet School and Condit Elementary School are having their charrettes on Oct. 1 and 2, and more will be scheduled in the coming weeks.

Bankhead said he hopes the workshops will help the school communities come up with great ideas and develop the best concepts for their particular projects. “This is a critical part of our design process,” he said.