Washington HS community learns how fault line will impact design

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More than 65 people turned out Tuesday to a community meeting at Booker T. Washington High School to discuss how a geological fault line will impact the design of the new school being built under the bond program.

HISD administrators learned about the location of the Long Point – Eureka Heights fault system in March.  The fault runs on the north portion of the site for the new high school, across land purchased by the district to nearly double the size of the campus.

The fault is not considered a safety risk. For this particular fault, however, the concern is very slow vertical movement over decades that could cause foundation problems, roof and window leaks, as well as other structural issues.

“With this new information, we’re making some adjustments,” said architect Jim Hepburn of the firm Fanning Howey / House+Partners Architects, which is designing the new $51.7 million project for the district.

Under consideration is a plan that would move the new building well north of the fault line. In doing so, the architects are proposing to maintain the overall square footage of the new campus but reduce the footprint by making one of the neighborhood centers two stories instead of one story.

In addition, the proposal would relocate the child-care center to the north side of the campus, with the added benefit of it having its own entrance.

Among the advantages of the plan is that it utilizes existing design components and locates all the learning centers or academic spaces in the neighborhoods. It also allows completion of the new school prior to any demolition of the current building, which means students will see the least disruption to existing school schedule and activities.

Hepburn emphasized that proposal doesn’t eliminate any space. “We’ve utilized all the existing pieces, just re-packaged them.”

Mardi Paige, a longtime resident of the Independence Heights neighborhood, said she likes the two-story concept as being more fitting with a high school, but she’s interested in seeing more details as the design is further developed.

Under the plan, the target opening of the new school would be the third quarter of 2017.

Among the attendees at the meeting were HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones and state Rep. and Houston mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner.  Also present were several members of the school’s Project Advisory Team, which meets the second Tuesday of every month to review and discuss progress.

“Something has to be done,” said PAT member Martin Lavergne of the fault line. “At the next PAT meeting, we’ll get a better look.” He said he’s interested in making sure the design of the school facade is consistent, especially with the addition of a second story on one portion of the new building.

Some at the meeting had questions about HISD’s process for purchasing real estate and assessing land for potential hazards, such as fault lines.

Turner urged those in attendance to keep their focus on the completion of a new school that will be an excellent facility for generations of students.

“Let’s get this school built and let’s get it done right,” he said.