HOUSTON – Nov. 16, 2018 – Spring ISD’s plan to add new ninth-grade centers at each of its three comprehensive high schools is moving closer to construction as designs of the buildings, being funded by the 2016 bond program, near completion.
The district’s Board of Trustees got a detailed look at the renderings for each ninth-grade center during November’s board workshop, when architects presented the latest drawings.
“This has been a collaborative process,” said Chief Operations Officer Mark Miranda, who noted that architects had met with teachers, administrators and staff in developing the designs of each of the three ninth-grade centers. “The goal has been to exchange ideas, develop consensus and to ensure these buildings reflect the specific needs and programs of each high school.”
All three projects share some similarities, namely the goal of alleviating overcrowding on the main campuses while also easing the transition from middle school into high school for ninth-grade students.
Research has shown that separate ninth-grade environments can help offset some of the issues typically seen among new high school students, particularly a drop in achievement and an increase in behavior problems.
Other districts across the greater Houston region, including Alief and Aldine, already use ninth-grade centers.
“We did a lot of research first and foremost, and then a lot of visits,” said Dr. Lupita Hinojosa, chief of school leadership and student support services. “This is a great opportunity to provide our students what they need.”
Under the district’s plan, each of the three ninth-grade centers would enroll about 900 students and will be located in close proximity to the existing high school campuses. They all prioritize safety and security for students and staff, and make use of natural daylighting to improve the learning environment. During the board work session, project architects highlighted the distinct features for each center.
At Westfield, the new ninth-grade center will be located in the building on Southridge now occupied by Roberson Middle School, which is slated to move into a replacement campus on Veterans Memorial Drive next August.
Pfluger and DLR Group architects are proposing an extensive renovation of the Southridge facility that would enlarge classrooms, create new collaboration spaces, add science and art labs, and develop a student-friendly outdoor courtyard at the center of the school for dining and studying.
“It’s drastically different than what you see today,” architect Michelle Dudley told the board. “We want this to be a ‘wow’ school when you walk up.”
To give the entire building a more modern feel, the architects are also proposing a major change to the main entrance to create a bright, glass entryway together with a covered second-floor breezeway connecting the two wings of the school. Some of the exterior concrete panels would be replaced with metal panels and glass walls. Design elements throughout the school would incorporate red highlights to connect it with Westfield’s existing school colors.
The renovation also includes demolishing the existing gymnasium and replacing it with a new addition that would house Career and Technical Education (CTE) labs and a large dance classroom.
Trustee Dr. Deborah Jensen said she was looking forward to seeing the renovations. “This is setting it up to support instruction for a whole new era of students.” she said. “The more natural light you have, the better the student achievement.”
For Dekaney High School’s ninth-grade center, the architects presented a plan for a new three-story building located on the south side of the campus. The new building would be designed to maintain the existing tennis courts but would require some changes to detention areas, drop-off lanes and the bus loop.
Chris Laack of VLK Architects said the location of the new ninth-grade center was chosen to give convenient proximity to the main campus, where there is likely to be a lot of interaction – namely the Athletics and Performing and Visual Arts (PVA) areas.
He noted that the overall design of the new ninth-grade center creates an aesthetic connection to Dekaney, which has a distinctive look with its use of natural colors, wood and stone. As for the specific design of the building, the renderings show a three-story campus with two wings. Many of the classrooms would be located on one wing, with busier parts of the campus – including the dining commons and media center – located on the other. A gate could separate the two sections so after-hours visitors would not have access to the entire school.
Administrative offices and teacher workrooms will be dispersed throughout the entire building. As at Westfield, students would enjoy natural daylighting, flexible spaces and collaboration areas.
Those same design concepts are also present in the Spring High School ninth-grade center, which will be located on the east side of the campus beyond the existing Leonard George Stadium, extending into what is currently a wooded area.
A prominent main entrance featuring columns and glass would be located off Cypresswood. That site plan will give the district more flexibility in the future should the main campus need to be replaced.
The two-story floor plan includes a classroom wing on one side and a CTE area on the other. The main center of the campus would include the dining commons, administration areas, media center, and competition-size gymnasium, as well as PVA facilities.
The distance between the ninth-grade center and main campus would be about a five-minute walk, according to Jennifer Quigley, PBK principal and project client executive.
The Spring High School project also includes a stand-alone JROTC building in a central location between the ninth-grade center and the main high school campus to accommodate the school’s large and growing program. That building includes a firing range, uniform storage and classrooms.
The goal is to open all three ninth-grade centers in August 2020. Miranda said the current project schedule includes starting construction in early 2019.
“We are very excited about all three of these projects,” Miranda said. “They are really going to provide our ninth-grade students with an environment for students to mature, grow and make a successful transition to high school.”