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.”
There are many features that Principal Orlando Reyna finds impressive about the newly constructed Austin High School, but the contemporary courtyard is by far one of his favorites.
“It just looks amazing,” Reyna said, smiling at the thought of it. “I anticipate it’s going to be a popular space for us to utilize and for students to congregate.”
After a semester-long delay due to pandemic-related manpower and delivery issues, Austin High School is finally set to open its doors to students on Wednesday, Jan. 6, following their return from winter break.
These certainly aren’t your grandmothers’ schools.
At least that’s how Dan Bankhead, General Manager for Facilities Design, describes the newly redesigned schools built under the 2012 Bond Program.
A sharp contrast from the original buildings, classrooms are now bright, spacious, and flooded with natural light. Bold colors adorn the floors and walls. Shared spaces are reminiscent of trendy hotel lobbies and cafés.
Bellaire High School took a significant step toward the next phase of construction last month when the city approved a specific use permit allowing for the build of the high school’s new baseball and softball fields at 6300 Avenue B.
Abatement and demolition of the former Gordon Elementary School will begin soon to make way for the new fields.
The athletic fields are part of the 2012 Bond Program, which called for a rebuild of Bellaire’s existing school, which has been in use since 1955. Design plans for the $141.5 million, multi-phased project included the relocation of the baseball and softball fields to a site about two miles away to maximize space on the existing 18-acre campus.
A day before Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017, Tiffany
Irving and her son Grant eagerly delivered school supplies to his kindergarten
classroom at Mitchell Elementary, just south of Hobby Airport.
Little did they know then that Grant’s supplies — along with
the rest of his building and three other elementary schools across the district
— would be destroyed in the coming days as the storm dumped unprecedented
amounts of rain on the city.
Unfortunately, the damage wasn’t limited to the school. The Irving’s
home just around the corner from the school also flooded.
Kolter Elementary School Principal Julianne Dickinson began
to feel the weight of Monday morning before the sun went down the day before.
For Dickinson, Monday was different for a few reasons — the
start of in-person instruction, the return of students to classrooms after eight
months, and the required use of masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the most special reason was that it was her students’
first day in their newly constructed school.
When walking into Jennifer Heemer’s fifth grade classroom at
Kolter Elementary School, it’s hard not to get excited about learning.
The walls are adorned with colorful decorations, including a
poster reminding her students to “think outside the box” and class photos from
her 21 years of teaching. Natural light from a wall of large windows fills the
room and illuminates the two rows of perfectly-arranged desks.
For more than 80 years, the red-bricked Austin High School
has been a mainstay in the Eastwood community. With construction nearing
completion, the new school now strikes a balance of the past and present.
The $80.9 million project features modern classrooms,
flexible learning spaces, and sound and lighting upgrades to the existing
auditorium. The Art Deco-influenced façade also has been preserved and
refurbished as a part of the project.
“This school has been here for more than 80 years. It was
important to keep a part of this building that has been present in this
community for so long,” Austin Principal Steve Guerrero said. “The entire
building is just phenomenal. It feels very grand with lots of natural light.
Every single part of the building is exciting.”