Lamar High School is embracing its future as a 21st century school … with a past.
The school’s principal and members of its Project Advisory Team last week unveiled plans for a new five- to six-story academic building with multi-level parking garage to be built on Eastside Drive and adjoined by the architecturally significant, Depression-era school building that has stood on Westheimer for 77 years. Tennis courts are shown on the roof of the new buildings, although the design is mostly conceptual at this stage, said Patrick Glenn, principal with architectural firm Perkins+Will.
“We started planning this, actually, before the bond passed. We were hopeful it would pass,” said Dr. James McSwain, who is in his 17th year as principal at Lamar. “The original building is 77 years old, and we’re still educating kids in it today … It’s taken a lot of thought and heart to come up with ideas that will make this a thriving school community long into the future.”
Lamar is among 40 schools being repaired or rebuilt in the $1.89 billion bond program that Houston ISD voters approved in 2012. Like three other HISD high schools — Milby, Austin and Davis — Lamar’s inclusion in the bond package stipulated the new facility for between 2,800 and 3,100 students would preserve “the architecturally significant building structure.”
Designed by a team that included John F. Staub and Kenneth Franzheim and constructed of Texas limestone with steel ribbon-style windows, the old building has served as a hurricane shelter, McSwain said. Additions made in 1987 are not as sturdy, he added, and will be demolished when the new academic building is completed. The old building, including the auditorium, which features a relief map of Texas designed by Nino Lenarduzzi at its entry, will remain with a new addition behind it for performing arts that could include a black box theater.
The campus is being designed with an eye toward modern campuses by employers like Google and Exxon Mobil, McSwain said, with flexible spaces to accommodate small groups to large seminars.
The high school already is adopting a more collaborative learning model, referred to as a flipped classroom, where homework happens in the classroom with teacher guidance to help students be more analytical and think critically.
About 50 persons attended the community meeting to learn about Lamar’s design plans. As proposed, the concept would retain some parking near the front of the school off Westheimer. The new parking garage on Eastside will provide space for more than 1,000 vehicles, with two levels below ground for teachers and five above for students. It will provide easy access to athletic fields in the center of the campus, including a multi-purpose field and track, baseball, softball and three practice fields. The plan leaves an existing athletic storage building in place and has space to add bleachers and a central concessions area later.
Noting that some sports currently are played off campus, McSwain said, “This plan tries to bring all of our kids back to our campus, and that’s not an easy feat.”
Security and technology upgrades will abide by HISD’s standards for 21st century schools.
Many logistics remain to be worked out, in addition to a more complete design and construction schedule. A second community meeting to discuss progress on the project is anticipated in a few months.
About $108 million is budgeted for the project. The current timeline anticipates construction could begin in mid-2015 with completion in 18-24 months.
“This is as far as we are now. We’re not doing away with any programs we have,” McSwain said.
“We have some pretty good ideas — cool ideas,” he added, “but the budget guys have got to do their work.”