Bellaire, Lamar envision 21st century design elements in new high schools

Project Advisory Teams for Bellaire and Lamar high schools focused on the best ways to organize spaces in new facilities while sharing input with architects designing 21st century learning environment for both campuses.

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“There are no bad ideas,” said HISD General Manager of Facilities Design Dan Bankhead. “You were brought together because your schools share common challenges, but there are also some differences between the two. I want to see a lot of collaboration and input from all of you because we’d love to come away from this process with a site plan and design direction.”

The PATs participated in a two-day design charrette this week at Rice University. Bellaire and Lamar are part of a group of 40 schools that will be rebuilt and renovated with funds from the district’s 2012 $1.89 billion bond program. Both existing schools will be open during construction, which is scheduled to begin in mid- to late 2015.

“We have some pretty good ideas about what we want our design to look like,” said Lamar Principal James McSwain. “We want a lot of natural light, flexibility, and not the same thing we already have.”

The new five-story facility at Lamar will be built on Eastside Drive alongside its existing Westheimer Road building and will include a parking garage where the rooftop could be used for tennis courts and a golf range. There’s also talk of adding a daycare center for the staff’s children. The school’s existing building, which is regarded as a historic structure, will be renovated, and a theater black box will be added to its performing arts area.

“We’re trying to merge the old and new to be respectful of the space,” said architect Ron Stelmarski with Perkins + Will, the architecture firm designing the new Lamar.

During the charrette, the PATs, comprised of school staff and community members, used foam building models and paper cut-outs to organize a building site with learning neighborhoods, learning commons, and areas for athletics, dining and administration.

“It’s super important to involve the teachers in this process,” said Phoebe Tudor, a member of the Lamar PAT and the HISD Bond Oversight Committee. “As a community member, we have our ideas on the aesthetics of the building, but they know firsthand what learning environment works best for their students.”

The Bellaire PAT would like to see the new school as a three-story facility with more natural light, green spaces and flexible learning spaces that can be used in multiple ways to encourage collaboration throughout the campus.

“We want to see 21st century design elements,” said Bellaire Principal Mike McDonough. “One of the best positives about this process is having real time with the architects.”

The school’s architects shared ideas to create a modern dining area as the center of the school with second-floor learning areas and balconies overlooking the space where students can gather to eat, work on projects and for club meetings and practices.

“Although we’re building a building, there’s still an education program going on,” said Bellaire librarian Carl Casteel. “What we have to be concerned with is that whatever environment our students are in, they will be excelling.”

The school’s architects worked with Bellaire PAT members to discuss pros and cons of building the new facility on the school’s athletic fields or in phases on the existing site. The PAT shared concerns on possibly losing the athletic fields and building off of Maple Street, which is more residential than Rice Avenue, the street the school currently faces now. Some potential advantages of building the facility on the athletic fields include less construction time, more design options and separating new construction from the existing building site to keep the area safe.

“Breaking up the pros and cons was important to this process,” said architect Melissa Turnbaugh of PBK Architects. “We need to understand what they love about their current building and the things that can be enhanced in a new facility where we want to take advantage of new technology and more green space.”