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More than 160 parents, neighbors, and alumni attended a community meeting at Jack Yates High School on Thursday evening to hear about plans to build a new 21st century campus for the school. This was the second of three Yates meetings that will be held to update stakeholders on the project status.
As part of HISD’s current bond program approved by Houston voters in 2012, Yates will receive a new $59.4 million facility that will accommodate 1,500 students. The school’s current enrollment is about 950.
Attendees heard a presentation from Moody Nolan architects and were shown site plans and renderings of the design, which will include a three-story academic wing with flexible core learning centers, and a one-story high volume performance wing with an auditorium, spaces for fine arts and JROTC, a gymnasium, and athletics area.
The building will also feature a grand entryway with large windows that connects the front and back entrances and additional learning spaces designed to accommodate the school’s career and technology programming including the communications magnet.
“I’ve seen the design and I’m really excited about it, especially the new communications suite,” said Stacy Rayon, a 1989 graduate of Yates’ communications program. “It looks like it’s going to be more modern, and it more closely suits the actual radio stations where people are working today.”
Stakeholders were also briefed on a new administration proposal that would provide additional funding to all bond projects needed to address a budget gap in the original estimate versus actual building costs resulting from a significant increase in construction costs since the bond was passed.
The proposal would add $211 million to the district’s $1.89 billion bond program and will be voted on by trustees at the Oct. 15 Board of Education meeting.
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If approved, the additional funding would be distributed proportionately to each bond school project’s original construction budget to support needs related to project scope. For Yates, that means $7.4 million would be added to the project for a new project budget of $66.9 million.
After the presentation, the group had the opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns. Several alumni members expressed a strong desire to renovate the existing building rather than build a new school to preserve the history of the campus and because the new building will not be as large.
Yates Principal Ken Davis said that the current building is too large and that extra staff is required to supervise students because large portions of the building are not in use.
“The new school will hold almost twice the number of students we have today,” Davis said. “It’s time to move forward and focus on the students we have today.”
Some audience members stated their belief that Yates was promised $72 million rather than $59.4 million. It was explained that the document that this higher number was based on was a very early draft of what HISD administration was considering, and was not something that was ever presented to the board, the public, or voters for approval. The current budget of $59.4 million was approved first by the board, and then by the voters in November 2012 .
Several alumni and parents expressed strong support for the new building project.
“For a long time, I wasn’t trying to look at the new design because I wanted a renovation to hold on to the past,” said Yates alum Rufus Browning. “There’s a lot of passion here, but it’s time to move into the future. It’s not about me, it’s about these kids. They deserve a new school.”
While some disagreements remain, attendees had the opportunity to express their viewpoints and be heard in a respectful environment.
The new school will be built facing Alabama Avenue, adjacent to the existing building. Construction is set to start before the end of this year, with substantial completion in fourth quarter of 2017 and target opening January 2018.