Excitement and nostalgia filled the air as community members from the historic Fifth Ward flocked to the new Mickey Leland College Preparatory Academy for Young Men on Friday to get their first glimpse of the new campus.
Roughly 50 school stakeholders and community dignitaries — including Gaston Leland, brother of late Congressman and school namesake Mickey Leland — crowded into the robotics lab, eager to see and learn about the facility, which is set to open to students for the first day of school on Aug. 28.
“So much has gone into building this facility,” Principal Dameion Crook said, as he welcomed the crowd to the new school. “It’s been really special to watch it all unfold.”
Leland is among 40 schools across the district being renovated or rebuilt as part of the 2012 Bond Program. The $30.3 million project called for a new facility that could accommodate up to 1,000 middle school and high school students.
The new state-of-the-art facility features robotics and engineering labs, innovative learning centers, athletic facilities, eco-friendly courtyard areas, and the Joe Sample Music Hall, which includes a recording studio.
The building also showcases the history of the surrounding Fifth Ward neighborhood, as well as historical features of the previous buildings located on the site — E.O Smith Middle School, Phyllis Wheatley High School.
“This project is exactly what our students, parents, and community needed,” HISD Board of Education Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones said to the smiling crowd gathered before her.
Leland’s senior officers for the Class of 2018 joined with school administrators to lead guests on building tours. They started in the historic corridor, which serves as a bridge between the original Wheatley building and the new Leland facility. The hallway features historic artifacts and pays tribute to notable community residents.
Community member Alvin Byrd, who graduated from E.O. Smith and later from the current Wheatley High School building, said he felt a rush of emotions as he walked through the school’s main entrance and into the historic corridor.
“Fifth Ward is in my heart,” Byrd said, as he looked around the building in amazement. “We’ve got something here.”
Other dignitaries in attendance included former HISD Board of Education Trustees Carol Galloway and Paula Harris, the late E.O Smith’s great granddaughter Angela Martin, and community religious leaders. Also in attendance was Yolanda Sample, wife of legendary musician and Fifth Ward native Joe Sample.
A world-renowned jazz musician, Sample helped create Leland’s music hall and accompanying recording studio before his death. The Joe Sample Youth Organization donated money to the project and Yolanda Sample said she remembered the design meeting being one of the last her husband went to before his death. The school’s music hall is named after the late musician.
“It’s one of the most memorable moments for me,” Yolanda Sample said. “Joe wasn’t just a musician. He got a lot of satisfaction from the school and the kids.”
One of the first guests to arrive on Friday was Gaston Leland, brother of the school’s namesake. He wandered along the historic corridor, looking at the memorabilia hanging on the walls.
“It’s a great building,” Leland said, recalling how his late mother had been so excited to know a school was being named after her son. “My mother would be so proud.”
Bond construction is underway at roughly three dozen campuses in HISD — 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 country.