Mark White ES community hears about green design plans for new school

The new Mark White Elementary School, formally referred to as Relief Elementary, held its second community meeting on Tuesday to discuss project details of the upcoming campus.

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“It is going to be a school of choice,” said Peter Hines, principal at Briarmeadow Charter School and member of White Elementary School’s Project Advisory Team. “The whole idea is that it will help relieve some of our overcrowding.”

The school, being built for 750 students on 10 acres of land on Old Farm Road between Buffalo Bayou and Westheimer, will help minimize crowding in five existing schools located in the west Houston area. Parents at the surrounding schools will have the opportunity to send their child to the new campus.

A group of HISD administrators, teachers, facility planners and community members have met over the past several months to develop guiding principles as architects go through the design process. One of the main focuses for the group is connecting the natural setting and forested view of the site to the campus and bringing the learning experience from the inside to the outdoors, according to English & Associates’ project manager Angelia Mackey.

“We want to make sure that these are the goals of the school, and we are seeing these goals as we go through the design process,” Mackey said.

Preliminary designs for White Elementary show the center of the campus facing a multipurpose and dining room, and it includes a 21st century amphitheater and two driveways for bus and student drop-off.

Read more about the project

On the second floor, two classroom wings will be connected by a bridge-like corridor with views to the outside. Each classroom will have direct access to a shared learning commons area for collaborative learning. Keeping up with the nature theme of the campus, a “treehouse” gathering space will also be located on the second floor to provide a view below to the multipurpose room.

“I love the nature aspect and how [the architects] are incorporating nature from the site and area,” said parent Julie Taylor.

Direct access to a roof garden and an outdoor science learning space are also being considered in the design process. Parent Jeremy Taylor said he is pleased with the current design of the school and the ideas to incorporate the landscape and natural lighting.

One question raised during Tuesday’s meeting surrounded the idea of zoning and building a school so close to the Buffalo Bayou.

“The shape of the site is strange, but it gives us the opportunity to think outside of the box and look at the best orientation of what the school will be,” said architect Richard Rodriguez.

Construction of White Elementary is set for the end of the year with one more community meeting scheduled prior to finalizing the design.

“We want to make sure the environment is different so the classrooms and technology is different and really involves hands on-learning,” Hines said.