Austin High School bond project update draws big crowd

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More than 300 students, staff and community members gathered at Austin High School on Tuesday to get an update on plans to rebuild the 80-year-old school and a first glimpse at what the new facility could look like.

Plans for the campus include modern, open spaces allowing for lots of daylight, better traffic flow in and around the campus, clusters of classrooms to allow for a neighborhood learning concept, and a new, defined entry off of Jefferson Street.

“This really is about our students. We’re providing them with a different type of learning environment,” HISD Design General Manager Dan Bankhead told the crowd, explaining that students no longer sit in rows doing worksheets. “What we find now is students work better when they learn from each other, when they’re collaborative.”

Austin High School is being re-built as part of the Houston Independent School District’s voter-approved 2012 Bond Program. As part of the program, Austin is set to get a new facility for 1,800 to 2,000 students that preserves the architecturally significant structure of the current building.

The design plans for the new school were presented during the school’s second community meeting. Leading the presentation, Octavio Cantú with ERO Architects explained that the designs were the result of input and feedback gathered during many meetings with the school’s Project Advisory Team, and the first community meeting held last August.

The interior of the building facing Dumble Street will be completely remodeled, but its exterior façade and historic entry will be preserved. Much of the remaining two-thirds of the campus will be torn down and replaced with a multi-story building for most of the school’s academics.

More info on the Austin High School bond project

Adjoining the new school entry will be administrative offices and visitor parking. Parent drop-off will be along Dumble, while bus drop-off is on South Lockwood Drive near its intersection with Jefferson. Student parking will be located on the west side of that intersection, while staff parking is located at the rear of the campus.

Following the presentation, attendees asked questions about topics such as building capacity, historic preservation, construction timelines, traffic congestion and the size of new classrooms. Many in attendance were concerned about where students would attend school during construction of the new facility.

HISD Board of Education District VIII Trustee Diana Dávila assured the group that students would not be relocated to another campus. Rather, they would be housed in temporary buildings. She asked the crowd to be patient as she and district administrators worked through related logistics and funding issues.

“Our schools sometimes only get one shot,” said Dávila, who attended the meeting along with City of Houston District I Council Member Robert Gallegos, and a representative from the office of Congressman Gene Green. “We have to make sure that one shot is done right.”

Many neighbors and alumni said they were glad to hear students wouldn’t be relocated to another campus during construction. Among them was Stephen F. Austin High School Alumni Association President Oralia Sanchez, a 1981 graduate.

“Our main concern is our kids,” Sanchez said, noting that she hoped HISD would study the feedback provided by residents during the meeting. “I think it’s still at a development stage.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by Rosario Cardona, who lives in the neighborhood with her husband, a teacher at Austin High School.

“I feel that people’s voices were heard,” Cardona said.