Hurricane Harvey delays don’t dampen excitement at new Leland College Prep Academy

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After a two-week storm delay, Mickey Leland College Preparatory Academy for Young Men Principal Dameion Crook was so excited for the start of school on Monday, he couldn’t sleep the night before.

“I got here at 6 a.m.,” Crook said as he stood in front of his school directing cars in the driveway. “I beat the plant operator.”

For Crook and his students and staff, Monday marked not just the first day of school but the first day of school in their new building, constructed 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 schools students.

“It’s exciting — the building has a new car smell, the kids have a new car smell,” Crook said Monday in the minutes before the first bell rang, formally signaling the start of the new year. “It’s just a totally different kind of year for us. I can already feel it.”

The 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.

The first day of school initially was planned for Monday, Aug. 28, but that start date was delayed as a result of damages and flooding sustained from Hurricane Harvey. Most HISD schools — including Leland — opened on Sept. 11, but some were further delayed or even relocated to temporary campuses as crews worked to repair buildings that sustained the most significant damage during the storm.

Leland students slowly trickled into the building on Monday, making their way down bright corridors as they headed to eat breakfast and check lists that would tell them where to report for second period. Many stopped along the way to admire features in the new school.

“I liked it from the beginning — how it was organized, the way it looked, how the classes looked and knowing that’s where I would learn,” Leland freshman Brenden Bunch said.

Bunch said he was most excited about attending his computer programming classes, which will one day help him become a game developer. Leland eighth-grader Maddox Williams said he was eager to get into the new library, while Leland sophomore Caleb Martinez said he was most excited to see the science labs and all the new equipment inside of them.

“Everything is so new. It looks new and fresh,” Leland sophomore Caleb Martinez said, noting that spaces at his new school looked similar to spaces he visited at the University of Houston. “I know how to envision college and what it looks like just being here. That took my breath away.”

Leland is among eight new and renovated schools that opened for this first time this fall as part of the 2012 Bond Program. Bond construction is underway at more than two dozen campuses in HISD, with almost 50 percent of all bond projects now completed and open to students. Once all work is complete, HISD will boast of one of the most modern portfolios of urban high schools in the country.