Wharton renovation, expansion plans presented to community; construction to start soon

Once construction is complete, the new Wharton Dual Language Academy will feature new learning spaces and labs, a new gym and library, an interior courtyard preserving heritage trees, and a grand, three-story, glass entryway.

Designs plans for the school’s renovation and new addition were detailed to nearly 100 Wharton parents and community members Thursday night during  community meeting at the Wharton campus.

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The project is part of the Houston Independent School District’s 2012 Bond Program, which calls for renovation or replacement of 40 schools across the district. Construction at Wharton is expected to start later this year, with the Montrose-area school expected to re-open its doors in fall of 2018.

The project will expand the school’s capacity up to 900 students and eliminate all the temporary buildings from the site.

“We’ve come a long way since the last community meeting, and we’re really excited to show it to you,” Casey Annunzio, an architect with San Antonio-based Munoz Architects, told the crowd of parents and neighbors who packed the school cafeteria.

The plans call for a complete interior renovation of the current building, as well as an addition on the north side  that will house an administrative suite, classrooms, kitchen and dining commons, and performing arts spaces on the first floor.

The second floor will feature additional classrooms and labs, as well as a new gym with a performance platform, and fitness and locker rooms. The third floor, which will be home to students in fifth through eighth grades, will feature classrooms and labs, as well as teacher preparation areas.

The front of the school will now face west, with the main entrance off Columbus Street and visible from its nearby intersection with West Gray Street.

“As we go through this process, we always have in our minds our mission statement,” Wharton Principal Jennifer Day said to the crowd, which included District VIII Trustee Diana Davila. “Our goal is to empower our students to become respectful, life-long, bilingual, bi-literate inquirers who celebrate diversity as responsible citizens of the world.”

According to the design plans, the school also will feature a secluded, interior courtyard that preserves heritage trees. The current kitchen will become the new home for art, and the back wall will be removed and replaced with windows, allowing students to look out to the courtyard as they work.

Both the interior and exterior of the school will feature vibrant colors. The lower level exterior of the addition will be wrapped with bricks that are similar to those on the existing school, which will help visually connect the two buildings.

The new, multi-story library also will feature vibrant colors and playful sayings written on the wall in both Spanish and English.

“This is successful, vibrant, and fun,” Annunzio said of the design and color scheme. “The kids will really like it, and it really speaks to the multicultural education that goes on here.”

Because of space constraints, an existing baseball field located on the north side of the campus will be replaced with a sloped flex field that will do double duty as a detention pond. Additional parking also will be added, with lots on the north, south and west sides of the campus.

Safety issues prevent students and staff from remaining on campus throughout the construction process. As a result, Wharton will be temporarily relocated to the nearby Hogg Middle School campus for the duration of the project.

“Our program is not our building. It’s our people that make our program,” Day said reassuring the crowd, as she introduced Hogg Principal Angela Sugarek. The pair then fielded questions from the crowd on everything from student safety to parking and transportation concerns.  Both principals vowed to work together to make the transition as smooth as possible and to keep parents informed along the way.

Wharton Mother Christine Diaz said she was happy to see the designs and even more excited to see progress being made and construction soon to start.

“I’m excited for the Wharton community and the neighborhood,” said Diaz, who has a daughter in fifth grade at Wharton. “I think it’s going to be a beautiful school and a beautiful space that we all can be proud of.”

Wharton parent Dr. Bogar Ventura echoed similar sentiments. After the meeting was over, Ventura studied the designs on display and pointed to one of his favorite features — the art space that will now overlook the courtyard.

As president-elect of the Wharton Parent Teacher Organization, Ventura said he has worked closely with the school’s project advisory team. Though he already had seen the designs, he was excited about the plans and physical expansion of the school, and he wasn’t deterred by the temporary relocation.

“This gives her the chance to stay until eighth grade,” he said, referring to his first-grade daughter. “It’s a small price to pay.”