Austin HS students start new year in new school

Austin High School seniors Daniel Miranda and Jesus Cantu greeted each other as they made their way through their school’s dining commons, stopping to soak in their new surroundings before the first bell rang.

“It looks futuristic,” Miranda said, first looking up at the contemporary lighting and then down below at the dining tabletops featuring the school’s mustang mascot.

“Futuristic?” Cantu asked with a laugh. “I think you mean modern.”

The longtime friends couldn’t come to terms on wording, but both quickly agreed they were excited to be at their new campus — a three-story building with bigger and naturally-lit classrooms, modern furniture, and the latest technology.

Built as part of the 2012 Bond program, Austin formally welcomed its first group of wide-eye students to its new 288,628-square-foot school on Wednesday. Though some had already gotten a sneak peek of what the school would look like through photos and videos, the sheer size of it still took some students by surprise. 

“It’s a lot bigger than what I expected, and it feels a lot safer, too,” Miranda said, adding that the new space is great for physical distancing.

The $80.9 million project features a variety of new learning environments, including labs for maritime, robotics, and welding; a life skills classroom that supports special education students; and a flexible band hall with independent practice rooms.

Junior Kiaira Sledge finds the latter the most appealing.

“Band is my pride and joy, and I’m so excited that we’ll have our own space now,” said Sledge, who up until Wednesday spent her high school years in the temporary building across the street. “It finally feels like I’m in a real high school now.”

Other features include two gyms, central outdoor courtyard, and a learning staircase built for studying and impromptu lectures. The project also included preservation of the original 1937 exterior façade and existing auditorium.

Blending the history of the original structure with cutting-edge technology, Principal Orlando Reyna said he hopes the new campus will act as a point of pride in the East End community for many years to come.

“I’m really hoping that our community gets a chance to see the beauty that we have with this new school,” Reyna said. “We would like to see all of our students come back to campus. Those in the area that may have left because they were in a temporary campus, we’re here. Your home is back.”

Just one 2012 Bond School — Bellaire High School — remains under active construction under its original scope of work. Once all projects are done, HISD will boast one of the most modern portfolios of urban high schools in the nation.