COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHEN SCHOOLS GET IN THE WAY “I’m sick and tired of people always complaining about how such and such crime happened close to a school. Schools are peppered throughout the city, so pretty much anywhere is ‘near a school.’ Find me a school-free area where I can do my shootings.” [criminal guy, commenting on The Great Coltivare Kumquat Tree Heist] Illustration: Lulu
The recently remonikered Margaret Long Wisdom High School is prepping for its scheduled student body transplant as the school year winds down. The shot above shows the main entrance of the school’s almost-ready new building, tucked behind the old one along Hillcroft Ave. south of Beverly Hills St. That older structure, which cut its Confederate ties about a year ago, should be getting erased altogether starting in June, a reader involved with the project tells Swamplot.
Here’s the flip side view of the glassy main entrance above, which should be unlocked in time for fall classes:
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Creeping South on Hillcroft
EARLY VOTING OPEN NOW FOR HISD’S SPECIAL MAY 6TH ‘YOU SURE YOU WANNA DO THAT?’ ELECTION Early voting opened this past Monday and goes through next Tuesday, May 2nd, if you don’t wanna wait for the official May 6th election day to weigh in a second time on HISD Prop. 1. The ballot question, as Andrew Schneider notes this week for Houston Public Media, addresses the same funding recapture proposition that didn’t pass in November (meaning HISD voters opted not to send the state of Texas some $160-ish million in property tax money, as required under the current state education funding system.) The state responded in the spring with a list of $8 billion worth of skyscrapers, malls, refineries, and other properties it could pluck from HISD’s boundaries if the district doesn’t pay up; it also dropped the amount potentially owed this year down to $77.5 million as a nod to potential HISD revenue lost to the city’s homestead exemption. [Houston Public Media; previously on Swamplot] Map of HISD and surrounding school districts: Texas Education Agency District Locator
HISD PROP 1 VOTERS TO STATE: COME AND TAKE IT OR MAYBE DO SOMETHING ELSE INSTEAD While the Heights Dry Zone was dampened yesterday by a 63-to-36-percent moistening vote for City of Houston Prop. 1, HISD’s non-alcohol-related Prop. 1 was shot down yesterday by about the same margin (62-to-37-percent against). Laura Isensee writes that the measure was on the ballot this year because Houston’s rising property tax values have put it above a wealth threshold requiring it to share revenue into the state’s education funding system, “even if the majority of its students come from low-income households.” Crossing that threshold means the district was asked to send around $162 million this year to be distributed around; the ‘no’ vote however, denied the district permission to send the money the usual way (which no district has ever refused to do before). To get at the funds, the state could redraw the boundaries of HISD to move some higher-tax-value property into other nearby districts — or it could overhaul the education funding system during this year’s legislative session, as that Texas Supreme Court ruling in May strongly recommended (but did not order). Isensee writes that mayor Turner and others who campaigned against the proposition are hoping the vote will spur the Legislature to reform education funding in the upcoming session; lieutenant governor Dan Patrick has already said a special summer session could be called to tackle the issue, while governor Greg Abbott has already said that won’t be necessary. [Houston Public Media] Photo of HISD central office at 4400 West 18th St.: HISD
FEDS TO TEXAS: STOP PRESSURING SCHOOLS INTO CAPPING SERVICES FOR KIDS WITH DISABILITIES
The Department of Education sent out a knock-it-off letter yesterday in response to recently published documentation of a 32% drop in the percentage of Texas students getting special education services — down from 12.1% in 2000 to a seemingly-research-free “goal” of 8.5%. Brian M. Rosenthal reports that the push to reduce the special ed enrollment rate (a policy which was never publically announced) came shortly after the legislature cut the Texas Education Agency’s budget by more than a billion dollars in 2003; the 2004 special ed policy change may have saved the state billions of dollars by withholding federally-mandated accommodations for “children with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, epilepsy, mental illnesses, speech impediments, and blindness and deafness.” Though the agency also couldn’t provide any documentation as to why that target number was picked, educators and district administrators have told Rosenthal that the percentage functions as a de facto cap on how many students can receive services, since failure to come in below the 8.5% benchmark docks a school’s performance rating. Meanwhile, HISD’s own numbers have reportedly gone below and beyond the requirement, diving to 7.4% special ed enrollment versus 19% in New York City. Texas has 30 days to get back to the Department of Education on how it thinks the policy has impacted state school districts, and what it plans to do about it. [Houston Chronicle] Map of Houston-area school districts: TEA School District Locator
LANIER MIDDLE SCHOOL CEREMONIALLY CHANGES NAME TO LANIER MIDDLE SCHOOL The Lanier-Lanier name change got the official seal of approval as of yesterday morning by way of a seal-updating and renaming ceremony at the middle school’s campus at Woodhead St. and Westheimer Rd. That previously threatened lawsuit over the HISD’s plan to flush out Confederate sympathizers from its campus name roster was in fact filed in late June by a group of parent-and-alumni-types; documents filed with the district clerk’s office show that a request by the plaintiffs for a temporary injunction to stop the renamings from moving forward was denied by the judge on August 22nd. Lanier’s campus is keeping all but its first name, swapping author Sydney for former Houston mayor Bob; the other 7 schools on the changeover list started the year with more dramatic shifts in nomenclature. [HISD Blog; previously on Swamplot] Image of new Bob Lanier Middle School seal: HISD
A fresh batch of temporary buildings have recently made an appearance in the W. Dallas-adjacent field at the Gregory Lincoln Education Center, a reader notes. The buildings, some 21 in all, are a complete temporary campus set up for use by elementary school Wharton Dual Language Academy, whose own land less than half a mile away at W. Gray and Columbus streets is being turned over to construction crews for a $35.6-million expansion. A 3-story building will be tacked onto the north side of the existing Wharton structure, closing off a new interior courtyard; below is a look through the renderings and floor plans for the expansion, as well as the layout for the anticipated 2-year-long of Gregory Lincoln squeeze-in:
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Sporting Something New
THE UT AUSTIN SEGREGATION LAWSUIT THAT MADE TSU HOUSTON’S FIRST PUBLIC UNIVERSITY A recounting of some Houston higher-ed history comes from Ben Werlund this past weekend — namely, how University of Houston and Texas Southern University ended up as separate but adjacent public universities in the Third Ward. In 1927 the schools were founded as Houston Junior College and Houston Colored Junior College, segregated schools that eventually wound up on neighboring land after being renamed University of Houston and the Houston College for Negroes. In 1946, black Houstonian Heman Marion Sweatt was denied admission to all-white UT Austin’s law school; as the resulting lawsuit worked its way up to the Supreme Court in the pre-Brown v. Board of Education landscape of separate-but-equal requirements, the state quickly bought and renamed the Houston College for Negroes and added a law school, trying to prove that black students had comparable options to the Austin campus. “And thus, Houston’s first public university was born,” writes Werlund, to keep the Texas school system “from having to integrate its flagship in Austin.” The Supreme Court, however, didn’t buy that the new Houston law offerings measured up to the nearly 70-year-old UT law program, and UT Austin had to admit Sweatt after a 1950 ruling. TSU law professor James Douglas tells Werlund that the state legislature proceeded to cut TSU’s budget by 40 percent the next year; the private all-white University of Houston didn’t start to admit black students until 1962, shortly after which it turned public. “This was in the ’60s,” notes Douglas — “In 1964, I don’t think the people in Austin really thought integration was going to stick . . . I don’t think they ever thought this whole idea of having 2 universities close to each other was ever going to be a problem.” [Houston Chronicle] Image of Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University: TSU
A list of proposed school name changes was released on Friday as HISD moved forward with plans to to cut ties with the Confederacy. The switchover of Henry W. Grady Middle School to Tanglewood Middle School was already approved by the district board of education back in March — here are the 6 and a half new names proposed for the 7 remaining schools, which could be applied by the start of the 2016-2017 school year:
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TEXAS A&M WEIGHS HOUSTON EXPANSION AS UT COLLECTS LAND FOR ITS PLANNED CAMPUS Following the University of Texas’s recent start on buying up that land in southwest Houston for a proposed campus of yet-ambiguous-purpose, Texas A&M is now sizing up the city as well, writes Benjamin Wermund of the Houston Chronicle. A&M president Michael Young suggested that those watching the university’s plans for the Houston area “stay tuned” as the school weighs strategy. UT’s November announcement that it would buy around 300 acres at W. Belfort Ave. and Buffalo Spdwy. triggered responses from University of Houston supporters including Texas senator John Whitemire. Whitmire’s December letter to UT chancellor Bill McRaven cited fears that a new UT Houston campus would pull resources and top-tier faculty away from U of H, in part due to the structure of the state’s Permanent University Fund allocations (which go only to UT and A&M campuses). Young, however, suggested that backlash over UT’s ongoing purchases south of Reliant was premature (as, perhaps, was UT’s broadcasting of its plans): “I guess I’m a little confused about the spat at the moment, because I don’t know that UT has really said what they’re going to do,” Young told the Chronicle. “So far it’s a land deal, and I must say an amusing one, because I didn’t know you announced you were going to buy property before you actually bought it.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Conceptual rendering of UT Houston campus: Houston Public Media
Here’s a peek from Colquitt St. at the early stages of the new science and healthcare center shooting up where the University of St. Thomas’s athletics fields used to be. Construction kicked off back in November, and at least part of the complex is expected to be ready for action some time in 2017. First off the line in Phase I should be the nursing school, along with the biology and chemistry departments.
No signs yet on the site of the winding astronomy tower that appears to be floating up through a hole in the trellis canopy enclosing the complex’s central courtyard, in the renderings from EYP. The planned tower would send students spiraling up above the center’s roof to an astronomy observation deck. The glassy base of the structure is shown hovering above a water feature:
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To Astronomical Heights
Some zoomy conceptual renderings of the University of Texas’s coming Houston campus, centered on the largely undeveloped intersection of Buffalo Spdwy. and Willowbend Blvd., made their debut at last month’s Board of Regents meeting, where the intended purchase of land for the project was announced. Buffalo Spdwy. gently winds through the drawings of the new campus to a track and several baseball diamonds along Holmes Rd. (which runs horizontally across the top of the image above).
Although the images are only “concepts”, the pictures do provide a sense of how the campus might unfold: For example, that linear water feature shown at the center of the campus aligns with an existing drainage ditch on the property, and the 3 long, low structures in the foreground are good candidates for parking garages, which will be needed regardless of the new institution’s yet-to-be-decided purpose.
Existing residential communities and industrial parks are here rendered as sparsely-treed fields — the boundary of the land slated for purchase by UT currently houses several apartment complexes on the north side and the Orkin Industrial Surplus facility to the south.
But another conceptual rendering (this one looking northwest across Holmes Rd. towards the distant Williams Tower) shows the campus in place amongst some of its eclectic neighbors:
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Welcome to the neighborhood
RIVER OAKS BAPTIST SCHOOL BRINGS WAYWARD WESTHEIMER WALGREENS INTO THE FOLD A long-contemplated drugstore-to-Baptist-School handover finally took place last month. Back in January, Swamplot reported that the River Oaks Baptist School was in the process of buying the Walgreens at 3900 Westheimer Rd., in order to fit a “possible parking garage and secondary exit onto Westheimer” onto the 1.8-acre site. In announcing the transaction, however, the school hasn’t said precisely what it will do with its new digs — or when or whether the now-vacant drugstore building will be demolished. It is, however, developing a new master plan for the campus. The Walgreens relocated into the former Fresh Market across the street and on the other side of Weslayan — at 3745 Westheimer — in March. Photo: Swamplot inbox
HISD says it’s completed the purchase of land on Scott St., just north of the Gulf Fwy. between Coyle St. and Pease, for its new High School for Law and Justice, pictured above in a rendering from the DLR Group and Page, the building’s architects. HISD jettisoned the criminal enforcement elements of the school’s name last year; it was formerly known as the High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice. The site is near the southern edge of East Downtown, adjacent to the Leeland station of the about-to-open Purple light-rail line.
Notable features of the new 104,866-sq.-ft. building include a courtroom and law library, special spaces for both ROTC and visual arts programs, a gym, and a black box theater. The facility also appears to be designed for easy surveillance: “From the ground floor, transparent walls will allow visibility into labs on the second level for a crime scene area, fire science and a 911 training call center,” an HISD account notes. And that’s just how principal Carol Mosteit wants it: “I love the idea of having all this transparency and glass because we’ll be able to see the learning that’s taking place throughout the building,” she told an HISD blogger. “The way traditional schools are set up, it’s almost like an interruption when you open up a classroom door. We won’t have to worry about that with a 21st century building design.”
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They’ll Be Watching
UH LOOKING TO BUILD NEW CAMPUS IN KATY, BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE THE ENERGY IS The University of Houston has asked state lawmakers to begin work on a $60 million tuition revenue bond that would fund a new campus in Katy, including a 60,000-sq.-ft. facility on a not-yet-identified site. The new campus would be separate from the system’s existing facility at 4242 S. Mason Rd. in Cinco Ranch (pictured above). The move closer to oil and gas firms in the Energy Corridor is part of what UH vice president for government and community affairs Jason Smith tells Community Impact news is the institution’s goal “to become the energy university for the United States.” The Katy campus “would serve the oil and gas interests there, the companies and their campuses there,” he says. Separately, university president Renu Khator last week called the award of a multi-million-dollar grant for the establishment of a UH-led Subsea Systems Institute “the culmination of years of work to establish the University of Houston as the Energy University.” (Grant monies for that institute will come from payments made by oil company BP to the state of Texas after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.) [Community Impact News; UH] Photo of University of Houston System at Cinco Ranch: Directron