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More than 100 students, parents, staff, alumni, and community members turned out for a community meeting Wednesday evening to hear about innovative design plans for the new bond construction project at Lamar High School.
“We need to be educating kids to handle the future, so that’s how we designed the building,” Principal James McSwain told the crowd. “It’s got some exciting features. We’re building the very best, most intelligent facility we possibly can.”
As part of HISD’s current bond program, Lamar will receive a new $108 million facility that preserves the architecturally significant building structure and will accommodate up to 3,100 students. The existing main building with the well-known art deco facade, which faces Westheimer, will remain the main entrance to the facility. It will also house the existing auditorium, an alumni center, a child care facility for faculty and staff, and the performing arts area on the east end of the building.
A new four-story building featuring four large flexible academic areas will be constructed on the east side of the property, perpendicular to the current structure. In the school’s new academic model, students will be separated by grade level, and each grade level will be organized into neighborhoods of about 200 students or less. Each neighborhood will be completely self-contained with their own restrooms and food services. Each neighborhood will be taught by a team of inter-disciplinary teachers who will have the flexibility to set their own schedule, and students will learn in a project-based manner.
“Where this building differentiates itself from any other comprehensive high school is this concept of the neighborhoods,” said Daniel Day, senior project architect with Perkins + Will and designer of the new building. ”It’s a very forward-thinking teaching method that needs to be supported by the right kind of architectural space.”
Connected to the existing building by a second story concourse, the new building will also feature a large covered transit center for bus and parent drop-off, a black box theater and band instruction, a large banquet and food preparation space for the school’s culinary program, and other career and technical education spaces. Additional features of the new campus include a competition gymnasium, a natatorium, a multi-level parking garage, and additional sports fields.
“I think the most exciting thing is changing how we teach our kids. It’s a big paradigm shift going on with the open classrooms, the neighborhoods, a kind of a school within a school, team teaching and project-based learning – it’s a big change, but it’s an exciting change,” said Lamar parent and Project Advisory Team (PAT) member Laurie Lowery, who is also co-president of Lamar’s PTO. “We’re all waiting to see how it’s going to be implemented, what it’s going to look like, and how it’s all going to work.”
Construction on the Lamar project is expected to begin later this year and has a target completion date of the third quarter of 2018.
“I am certain that there are going to be people coming from all over the country to see this school,” said PAT member and Lamar Class of 1959 Alum Frank Kelly. “It’s going to be quite a remarkable place.”