Eighty Lamar High School graduates armed with shovels lined the school’s front lawn on Thursday, eager to break ground on a new campus as they celebrated the 80th anniversary of their beloved alma mater.
Graduates spanning eight decades each had the opportunity to dig into the dirt, formally marking the start of construction on the $108 million project.
“This is an exciting day for us,” said Lamar Principal James McSwain. “It’s a day that the school community has been looking forward to for many years.”
Lamar is being rebuilt as part of the Houston Independent School District’s 2012 Bond Program. The new campus will support the school’s International Baccalaureate and Business Administration programs and accommodate 2,800 to 3,100 students.
Design plans call for a new four-story academic wing with four flexible academic areas, a large covered transit center for bus and parent drop-off, a black box theater and band instruction area, a large banquet and food preparation space for the school’s culinary program, and other career and technical education spaces.
“Lamar is a gem of Houston. It’s historic, it’s special, and has so many distinguished alumni,” said District VII Trustee Anne Sung. “This is going to be the ideal environment for our next generation — to inspire them, encourage creativity and challenge their imagination.”
The existing main building, with its well-known art deco façade, will continue to serve as the main entrance. It also will house the existing auditorium, an alumni center, an employee child care facility, and a performing arts area.
Additional features include a multi-level parking garage, a competition gymnasium and natatorium, larger athletics fields, and the preservation of the park-like front lawn on Westheimer Road.
“We are going to be able to maintain the façade and the spirit of this building as we make it 21st century ready,” HISD Superintendent Richard Carranza said, reassuring the crowd that the “old charm” of the school would remain.
With all of the new future upgrades, some Lamar alumni were a bit nostalgic as they reminisced on the special day. The school is being rebuilt in its current location on a plot of land that alumni recalled once sat on the edge of Houston’s city limits and could be accessed only by an old country road.
“Oh, it’s quite special,” said 1938 graduate Arthur Stimson, a member of Lamar’s first graduating class. “The dearest part of it is seeing old friends.”
Several dignitaries were in attendance for the festivities, including HISD Deputy Superintendent Sam Sarabia, former Texas Gov. and Lamar Alumnus Mark White, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, and a representatives from the office of Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle.
Also in attendance were representatives from the Lamar Alumni Association, HISD Construction Services, Heery International, Perkins + Will, Gilbane Construction, and the Lamar High School Project Advisory Team and SDMC, as well as Lamar students, parents and community members.
Lamar Junior Micaela Tucker, one of the 80 Texans selected to participate in the groundbreaking festivities, was thrilled to be a part of a day that she said means so much to so many.
“It’s great it’s happening now,” Tucker said. “It’s going to be a completely different learning experience.”
HISD is in the process of renovating or rebuilding 40 schools as part of the voter-approved 2012 Bond Project. Construction is underway at roughly three dozen campuses, which is more activity than any other time in district history.
Almost 50 percent of Bond Projects will be complete and open to students by the end of this summer. Once all work is complete, HISD will boast of one of the most modern portfolios of urban high schools in the nation.
Construction on Lamar is set to be complete by the first quarter of 2019.