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A building concept with a courtroom and law library in the center of the new High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice set the premise for a site plan for the new school developed by students, staff and community members at a design charrette Wednesday and Thursday.
“We want our courtroom and law library to be the heart of our school,” said Principal Carol Mosteit. “I like the fact that these will be prominent features in the middle of our school, so that when people come into our building, they will instantly know what we’re about.”
As part of the district’s 2012 bond program, a new facility will be constructed just outside of downtown Houston along Scott Street between Pease and Coyle Street near Interstate 45. The building will also be in close proximity to the Houston Police Department’s South Central station, which can serve as a resource to students in the magnet school’s criminal justice program.
The school’s Project Advisory Team spent the workshop working with the school’s architects to organize a site plan for the new facility, which will be a 21st century learning environment with flexible classroom spaces and more transparency.
They moved paper building blocks around, compared different site schemes, shared design ideas, and studied photos of newly designed 21st century schools. Architects from the DLR Group and Page sketched various site designs and worked with the team to develop preliminary site plans of the building, including a three-story scheme that was the group’s favorite.
The preliminary site plans shows the 104,866-square-feet building organized with a courtroom on the ground floor along with administrative offices, student dining areas and the gym. Learning neighborhoods for criminal justice, legal studies, and emergency communications will be located on the building’s second and third floors and will connect via learning bridges that overlook student common areas.
“We’re going to stay focused on student-centered design,” said architect James D. French of the DLR Group, who would like to see hallways in the school designed to be used as research spaces and breakout areas. “We want to make sure there are spaces for lots of collaboration, where students can work outside of their classroom and easily come together with other students.”
The building will also include special spaces for the ROTC and visual arts program as well as an athletic field, and black box theater. From the ground floor, transparent walls will allow visibility into labs on the second level for a crime scene area, fire science and a 911 training call center.
“I love the idea of having all this transparency and glass because we’ll be able to see the learning that’s taking place throughout the building,” Mosteit said. “The way traditional schools are set up, it’s almost like an interruption when you open up a classroom door. We won’t have to worry about that with a 21st century building design.”
The group discussed the advantages of having a tall building that can be seen from the highway, keeping trees on the site to give the school a strong outdoor presence and improving parking areas. They would like to see safety measures put in place for students who may travel to and from school on the Scott Street Metro light rail that will run across the street from the campus. They also want the school to have a connection to the outdoors with a courtyard, outdoor learning areas and classrooms with natural light.
“I really want our building to have an open concept with glass walls and moveable walls because it will help promote the social integration of students and teachers,” said student Miyanna Kirksey. “We need to get students excited about learning by putting them in a unique learning environment.”