The groundbreaking ceremony for the new addition and renovations at Wilson Montessori School on Tuesday had all the usual celebratory elements from the obligatory shovels and hard hats to a distinguished list of speakers.
But Principal Beth Bonnette turned the morning into a teachable moment for the school’s more than 500 students when she challenged them to be part of history by contributing to a time capsule that will be placed within the walls of the new building.
“I want you to write me letters to convince me what should go into the time capsule,” she said, reminding students that they are all groundbreakers as they learn and share new ideas every day in Houston’s oldest all-Montessori school. “You’re an important part of an incredibly important day.”
Against the backdrop of an active construction site, former Texas Gov. Mark White, who also went to elementary school at Wilson, offered his own history lesson to the crowd of students, parents and teachers.
“This school is essentially the same as it was when I started first grade here 76 years ago,” he said as he praised the school’s influence on his own childhood and welcomed the new addition as it contributes to the school’s mission of educating all students. “I’m assured the new building is equally as strong and will serve students for the next 70 years.”
The Montrose-area school is receiving $18.9 million under the voter-approved 2012 Bond program to fund a three-story addition, as well as renovations to the existing facility, which was built in 1924. Among the design features is a two-story library space designed with large exterior windows to bring in natural light and connect students to the outdoors.
Other features include a new replacement dining area that opens to the outside, flexible learning spaces, and a new bus loop off Windsor that has a covered canopy for students. Fourth- through eighth-grade students will be housed on the third floor of the new building, which will expand the campus by nearly 58,000 square feet and eventually eliminate the need for temporary buildings.
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The building was designed by Smith & Company Architects in partnership with Pfluger Associates and is being built by Drymalla Construction Company under the program management firm of Rice & Gardner Consultants.
Amber Moncla, a parent of two students at Wilson and member of the school’s Project Advisory Team, praised the architects for really listening to the Montessori school community and trying to meet their needs. One such example is the creation of a multipurpose space in the new facility that will be able to accommodate large school or community gatherings.
“It’s been fun,” Moncla said. “We have a really unique PAT and a very strong principal.”
Construction on the new addition is well underway with the building pad completed and workers about to start on the footings. Under the proposed schedule, the addition is slated for completion in the first quarter of 2018. When students move into that building, renovations on the original campus will begin.
In addition to Gov. White, others in attendance for the groundbreaking celebration included Heather Cook, who presented a congratulatory certificate to the school on behalf of U.S. Rep. Ted Poe. Additionally, HISD Chief School Officer Jocelyn Mouton offered greetings on behalf of Superintendent Richard Carranza, and parent and Pastor Evan McClanahan of First Evangelical Lutheran Church opened the ceremony with an invocation.
Before heading back to class, seventh-grader Erin Smart said she liked the idea of a time capsule as a way to preserve this moment in the school’s history.
“I think it’s really cool for future generations to be able to see how we lived,” she said.