Wharton Dual Language Academy breaks ground on new facility

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Nestled in the middle of a dirt construction site, current and former Wharton Dual Language Academy students donning brightly colored dresses, sombreros, and mariachi suits danced in celebration of the school’s groundbreaking.

The students — part of MECA Ballet Folkorico — joined scores of Wharton parents, students and staff, all of whom gathered Friday to celebrate the start of construction on the renovation and addition project for their new school.

“It’s really hard to believe that this day has finally come,” Wharton Principal Jennifer Day said as she looked to the crowd. “We are able to see that the finish line is in sight.”

Wharton’s $35.6 million project, part of the voter-approved HISD 2012 Bond Program, features new learning spaces and labs, a new gym and library, an interior courtyard preserving heritage trees, and a grand three-story glass entryway. The expanded facility will accommodate 750 to 900 students.

“It’s such a pleasure to see that we still have a community that embraces Wharton,” HISD Trustee Diana Dávila said as she thanked community members for their longtime support. “I wish every child that’s attending here today will come back and walk those hallways again.”

Wharton is the only school in HISD that is 100 percent dual language, which means that all students are enrolled in the program, spending part of their day learning in English and part of their day learning in Spanish.

HISD Deputy Superintendent Sam Sarabia said the groundbreaking celebration served not just to commemorate the beginning of a new era for Wharton, but also as a time to remember the importance of embracing each other’s differences and cultures.

“The more one can really communicate in other languages, the better,” Sarabia said, alternating between English and Spanish as he spoke to the crowd. “Together we must continue honoring, understanding, valuing, and learning each other’s culture, each other’s language, because it is no longer a deficit. It is an expectation, and it’s a true sign of intellect.”

The 88-year old building — which will undergo a complete interior renovation, but maintain much of its original façade — will house all pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes. Plans also call for a new three-story addition that connects to the existing building.

The new addition will be located on the north side of the campus and house an administrative suite, classrooms, kitchen and dining commons, and performing arts spaces on the first floor. The second floor will feature additional classrooms and labs, as well as a new gym with a performance platform, and fitness and locker rooms. The third floor, which will be home to students in fifth through eighth grades, will feature classrooms and labs, as well as teacher preparation areas.

Additionally, the front of the school will now face west, with the main entrance off Columbus Street and visible from its nearby intersection with West Gray Street.

Construction is slated for completion during the fourth quarter of 2018.

With construction underway, the significance of the celebration resonated with Wharton PTO President-Elect Allison Esenkova, who addressed the crowd during the ceremony.

“It’s such a dream to find a wonderful school like this in the heart of Houston,” Esenkova said, tears streaming down her face. “I believe so strongly that by expanding our school and building a wonderful facility we can encourage this community to grow and thrive as a multicultural and multilingual population.”

Wharton parent of three Aneth Rojas said she is excited about how the design plans call for both old and new parts of the school to be combined.

“I really appreciate that,” Rojas said. “It’s exciting.”

Though Wharton eighth grader Yadira Turrubiartes won’t attend class in the new school and is sad to see the building change, she said she is looking forward to leaving her mark for the generations to come.

“We can still make memories,” Turrubiartes said. “The eighth grade class is planning to make something so that Wharton can remember us.”

Wharton is among 40 schools being renovated or rebuilt across the district as part of the 2012 Bond Program. Construction is underway at roughly three dozen campuses — 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.