Leader reader Angela Ryden was recently driving by Booker T. Washington High School, 119 E 39th St., and said she noticed about 30 houses, boarded up and “looking ready for demolition.” The bulldozers did indeed come by Independence Heights in March, and they will be back to clear a total of 51 properties to make way for Booker T. Washington’s new state of the art campus. All thanks to the $51.7 million allocated to the school as part of the 2012 voter approved bond program.
The new campus will accommodate up to 1,300 students, twice as many as are currently enrolled, and according to an HISD blog “will showcase the school’s engineering program with 21st century technology.” A rendering of the new building shows a sleek structure allowing ample natural light.
“We want it to be something soaring, something uplifting, but something that is unmistakably the front door,” said Ed Schmidt, lead architect with Fanning-Howey/House Partners.
In anticipation of the new construction, HISD purchased the 16 acres of land adjacent to the school, nearly doubling the size of the campus, according to an HISD blog.
Demolition couldn’t begin immediately because asbestos abatement had to be completed on the existing structures. Andreas Peeples, HISD construction general manager, said the process was one that could not be rushed due to safety protocols but that “now it’s time to bring the buildings down.”
The demolition phase, which is expected to take four to six weeks, began the week of March 6. Once the homes are demolished, HISD’s construction company will remove the streets and underground utilities. The contractor for the project is KBR Building group, LLC. Other schools for which KBR has a contract with HISD are Furr High School and Sharpstown High School. Kwame Building Group is the Program Manager.
The transformation of Booker T. Washington will be one more chapter in a long history of the school, which was established in 1893 in Houston’s Forth Ward as “Colored High” and in 1928 renamed for the famous African-American educator. It moved to its present-day location in in 1959 and 37 years ago became the High School For Engineering Professions, Houston’s first magnet school. Fifty-nine percent of students at the school are African-American and 37% are Hispanic.
In recent years, the campus has struggled. From an “acceptable” ranking from the Texas Education Association in 2010, Booker T. Washington slipped to “academically unacceptable” in 2011. By 2014, the TEA had given the school an upgrade to “needs improvement.” Enrollment was 767 in 2014, down from nearly 1,000 in 2010. Ninety-four percent of students were classified as “economically disadvantaged”, and 71% “at risk”, in HISD’s 2013-2014 student profile.
The new school is already bearing fruit in advance of its construction. Four Washington students were selected for a design team internship program, in which they interacted with architects, project managers, and the construction team for six weeks. They talked about their experiences at a recent community meeting and each was awarded a $2,000 scholarship for their work and input.
An August 2014 bond handout from HISD listed a construction start in mid to late 2014, which wasn’t the case, but with the start of demolition, the proverbial ball seems to be rolling.