Yates High School Principal Ken Davis made an impassioned promise Thursday as he spoke to the crowd of students, alumni and school supporters who gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking for their new $59.4 million school.
“I pledge to you, just as I have the community and the children I serve, I’m going to do my very best to make their dreams come true,” Davis said, applause erupting throughout the auditorium as he spoke. “I may not get to the mountain top with you, but I’m going to make sure the road is paved for you to get there.”
The Thursday morning groundbreaking marked a significant milestone in the storied history of Yates High School, which is being rebuilt as part of the Houston Independent School District’s voter-approved 2012 Bond Program.
Situated in Houston’s Third Ward, the new school will feature a grand entryway with large windows connecting the front and back entrances and flexible learning spaces accommodating the school’s communications and maritime magnet programs. It also will have a performance wing with auditorium, spaces for fine arts and JROTC, and a gymnasium and athletics area.
Construction on the new school, which is being built adjacent to the existing building, begins this summer. Once the new school is complete, the old building will be demolished to make room for athletic fields and additional parking.
Music echoed throughout the auditorium Thursday as the Jack Yates Marching Motion Band performed for the audience, accompanied by the school’s Golden Wave flag troupe. Yates alumni, many clad in their signature crimson and gold colors, stood and sung aloud as the band played the school song.
“How exciting it is to witness history being created,” said Yates 2016-2017 Student Council President and Emcee Amber Felder, as she opened the event. “Today, we embrace the rich heritage of our school … while also embarking upon a promising new future.”
Nearly a dozen elected officials turned out to offer words of congratulations and support. Among them were HISD Board of Education Trustee Jolanda Jones, U.S. Rep. Al Green, U.S. Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Gene Locke, Houston City Council Member Dwight Boykins, and Houston Community College Trustee Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, as well as representatives from the offices of State Sen. Rodney Ellis and State Rep. Garnet Coleman.
“This is the first step in getting people to want to come back to Yates,” said Jones, who presides over the district in which Yates is located. “I want it to be back at the greatness it was when it was the jewel of Third Ward, the jewel of the south.”
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Also in attendance were Yates Project Advisory Team Member Arva Howard and Holman Street Baptist Church Pastor Manson Johnson.
During the last 90 years, Yates has experienced an unparalleled history of achievement, Howard told the crowd, noting that it was one of the only schools to produce college presidents, army generals, federal judges, broadcasts journalists, media moguls, and petroleum engineers, as well as championship basketball teams and Emmy, Tony and Grammy award winners.
“Yates is the birthplace of excellence,” said Howard, a member of the class of 1969. “I’m so proud to be a Yates graduate, and I’m so proud to be a part of you.”
Golden Wave sophomore Sammarie Blake was among the students who performed during the groundbreaking. Clad in a shimmering, gold-sequined leotard and holding her flag, Blake said she was most eager to have access to the advanced technology that the new school would provide.
“I’m excited,” the 15-year-old said. “I’m ready for a new school.”
After the groundbreaking concluded, many alumni huddled around the ceremonial sandbox to watch classmates use golden shovels to turn the dirt over. Among them was Debra Smith-Stevens, a member of the Class of 1974 and a self-described “Yates-ite.”
“My heart is heavy — this was my building, this was my school,” the former cheerleader said as she glanced around the auditorium. “But I’m excited about what is going on at Yates. I want to see it flourish.”