Dozens attend design review meeting for new Mandarin immersion school

More than 85 people turned out on Feb. 27 to hear about the new Mandarin Chinese Language Immersion Magnet School that is being built under the 2012 bond program on nearly eight acres in the Galleria area.

“You have a very unique school program and we want to reflect that in the architecture,” said Melissa Turnbaugh, an architect with PBK, the firm hired to design the new 118,000 square foot building off West Alabama, at McCulloch and Yorktown.

The goal of the school is to develop students who are proficient in Mandarin Chinese through an immersion approach that alternates instruction in English and Mandarin. The school, now located on Avenue B in Bellaire, educates students in pre-kindergarten through third grade, but is adding one grade level per year to eventually become a pre-K through 8th grade campus.

In thinking about a design to support that goal, the school’s Project Advisory Team has worked with the architects to create a concept based on the Chinese characters for the sun and moon. The academic wing of the building, or the sun, will feature a light-filled learning commons surrounded by three stories of classroom space.

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“We really envision this space as very vibrant and dynamic,”  Turnbaugh said. The classrooms will allow for easy transitions from Mandarin to English instruction with interior doors to adjoining classrooms.  The youngest students will work on the first floor, and will move up to the higher floors as they get older. The third- tory will feature dedicated lab and art spaces for middle school students.

All academic spaces will feature flexible furniture to support either individual or collaborative learning.

The building’s common spaces, including cafeteria, gym performance and community areas, will be represented by the moon. The design will allow for after-hours access to the building for special events, Turnbaugh said.

Parent Edward Kuo said he liked what he saw during the presentation and is excited about the new school’s potential.

“It’s very Chinese to incorporate themes into the design concept,” said Kuo. “Overall, I was very impressed. I like the openness.”

When construction begins, the school will be built on district property adjacent to HISD’s School at St. George Place, 5430 Hidalgo.  Students will stay in the current Bellaire facility until the new $32 million project is finished.

Parent Dana Bieniemy said she is a little concerned about traffic in the Galleria area, but really likes the design of the new building and believes the new site will work well as the school grows up to a potential enrollment of 900 students.

Traffic is one of the issues that HISD planners, architects and members of the St. George Place Civic Association, as well as the Tax Increment Re-Investment Zone will be keeping an eye on. Traffic studies are currently underway to look at ways to mitigate the impacts on the surrounding streets.

Bill Hutz, who works with the Tax Increment Re-Investment Zone, said the neighborhood is also looking for a building that integrates well with the community and helps preserve healthy trees on the site.

School Principal Chaolin Chang said he was pleased with the turnout at Thursday’s community meeting, the first of three gatherings that will be held. The goal of the meeting was to gather as much feedback so that the architects, planners and Project Advisory Team can continue to refine the school design.

Chang said the collaboration with the community will create a stronger school. “They are able to provide a lot of input and that’s a process we value,” he said.