21st Century Schools Build on History with Elements of the Past

When Young Men’s College Preparatory Academy says goodbye to its 1920s-era building next year, the school may take a few pieces of history with it.

The original 1929 building cornerstone that sits on the west corner of the middle school building may be extracted to include in the new YMCPA facility that will be built in mid- to late 2014 with funds from the HISD 2012 bond program.

“Our Project Advisory Team (PAT) wants to keep a bit of the old structure and make it part of the new building,” said YMCPA Principal Damieon Crook. “We want to respect the history of this facility which was the original Wheatley High School – a very important part of the fifth ward community.”

The school is one of at least three HISD campuses planning to preserve history or special elements from its current building to display in its new facility. Although the schools are being rebuilt to be state-of-the-art learning environments, they won’t part with everything in their current buildings.

At YMPCA, the PAT is discussing the removal of unique building elements, such as the crown and columns above the front door of the Howard Payne Carter Career Center on the campus. At Sterling High School, students are interested in preserving the existing school logo in the cafeteria’s terrazzo floor. Some of the school’s bricks may also be removed.

“It’s cool that we’re preserving some things from our school,” said Sterling student Joshua Harris, who is a member of the school’s PAT. “When we toured Wunsche High School (in Spring), they had a room dedicated to their school’s history with pieces from their original school building like the flooring, some of the desks, and bricks with alumni names. So even though we’re getting a new building, it’s important to remember how our school started.”

At Furr High School, architects are planning to take original birch and maple wood from the school gym to use as special finishes on walls and ceilings throughout the new school.

“The wood accents add warmth and bring a bit of nostalgia to the new building, giving students and teachers a learning environment that balances history with the future,” said architect Eli Ochoa of ERO Architects. “It is not common for schools to repurpose wood from an old school, but by doing this, we will create a more sustainable green environment.”

Using the wood in the new Furr campus will also help HISD meet its goal of building green schools that meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

“A lot of people in the community want to carry some of the old into the new building, especially those who attended school here years ago,” said Furr Principal Bertie Simmons. “I want this building to be something that they can be proud of.”

Preserving pieces from a building can be a challenge depending on the age of the building and what elements are being extracted.  Architects and project managers also have to consider the cost impact and the size of the pieces being removed to determine whether they can be incorporated into the design of a project.

“We have to find a way to connect these pieces structurally, so we can take it out as one piece and move it safely,” said HISD senior project manager Sonny Fletcher. “We want to save historical and unique elements that the community will be able to talk about in the new facility. But we don’t want to spend so much money on this that we sacrifice money spent on the educational environment.”