Washington HS community gets update on plans leading up to construction of new school

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The new Booker T. Washington High School being built under the 2012 bond program will showcase the school’s engineering program through dynamic academic spaces that encourage collaboration and project-based learning.

“What I see in this design is flexibility and the ability to change without interruption,” said Jerome C. Nickerson Sr., who was one of about 70 people who turned out for a community meeting on the project Tuesday night.

Nickerson, an alumni from the Washington Class of 1968, was among the many people in the audience with deep ties to the high school, located in the Independence Heights area of Houston at 119 East 39th Street.

As the third in a series of meetings about the project, the gathering was designed to update the community on the progress of the $51.7 million plan to rebuild the school, which was named after Booker T. Washington, an African-American educator, author and orator.

Attendees on Tuesday included HISD Board of Education Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones; Councilman Ed Gonzalez, District H; and Councilman Michael Kubosh, At-Large 3.

Learn more about the Booker T. Washington High School project

Construction work will begin on the new school in the fourth quarter, when demolition begins on homes purchased by the school district to nearly double the school’s acreage.

Ed Schmidt, lead architect with Fanning-Howey/House Partners, said the school’s design reflects months of brainstorming, collaboration and input from a Project Advisory Team made up of students, staff, teachers, alumni and neighbors. Their work included visits to schools in the Seattle area to help visualize the components of a 21st century learning environment, namely flexible spaces that can be adjusted to the educational program as needed.

While most of the new school’s design is done, the team is still working on finalizing the entrance. “We want it to be something soaring, something uplifting, but something that is unmistakably the front door,” Schmidt said.

For many in the audience, especially alumni, the new building offers a chance to revitalize the school and the surrounding neighborhood. The new school will able to accommodate up to 1,300 students, nearly twice as many as enrolled now. Some expressed disappointment that the new school won’t feature a pool. However, Washington Principal LaShonda Bilbo-Ervin said the new facility will include spaces to help strengthen the school’s Career & Technical Education program, also a priority among community members.

With construction on the horizon, Rick Anderson, the senior project manager at construction firm of KBR, reviewed safety and scheduling issues to ensure the work has minimal impact on neighbors, traffic flow, or the students.

“Safety is very important,” he said.

Tuesday’s meeting also offered the opportunity for four Washington High School students to present on their summer internships at Fanning-Howey/House Partners. The students spent six weeks working with all the companies involved in the project to rebuild Washington, including KRB and Kwame Building Group, the program manager of the new school.

Osmar Barrerra, was one of the student interns and a rising senior at Washington. He said the internship gave him detailed insight into how the school was being designed and built. He liked what he saw.

“It’s going to be a good building,” he said. “The architects have taken all the ideas from the PAT for the design. It’s going to be good for the community.”