Standing inside the library/media center on the second floor of the newest facility on campus, Houston Superintendent Scott Dill took in his surroundings as he addressed the school board.
“As I’m looking around right now, I’m looking at the sunset and the beautiful trees in our community,” Dill said. “This is what we’re about. This facility represents what we’re about in Houston – our commitment to our kids and our town. I couldn’t be prouder of the work we’ve done here.”
After more than two years of board meetings, architectural renditions, campaigning and construction, a monumental moment at Houston Schools arrived last Thursday as students entered the doors of the new structure that is now the centerpiece of the district.
Along with providing additional security by connecting the middle school and high school buildings, the facility includes new office space, upstairs restrooms, an elevator and expanded library that Dill –– who began his educational career as a librarian –– said is one of the top additions of the $4 million bond issue that received 72-percent voter approval in April 2013.
The project also included roof work on all four main buildings on campus, expansion of the high school/middle school cafeteria and air conditioning inside Hiett Gymnasium.
“I want to thank you for the opportunity to be part of this. It has been special,” Dill told board members at last Tuesday’s monthly meeting. “This has been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done in my professional career, but it also has been one of the most rewarding.”
Progress on the new building began in May 2013 when two Houston High School graduates – Jared Smith and his father, Rupert – demolished the former library. By that time, air conditioning installation was nearly completed in Hiett Gym, expansion was ongoing at the cafeteria and roof work was ahead of schedule on the elementary building.
Legal issues then temporarily halted the work when Sapp Design Associates Architects P.C., a Springfield architectural firm, presented the district with a bill from a 2009 bond issue that had failed. The two sides eventually settled in late August for $27,843.75, clearing the way for the new facility. Roof work, which also was stalled by the legal issues, also resumed.
Gentry Construction Co. was approved in February 2014 as the general contractor of the $3,157,000 project. The group completed its work in July 2015 in time for the beginning of the new school year.
Dill praised the construction work led by HHS graduate Gary Gentry.
“Mr. Gentry has done an outstanding job,” Dill said. “He is Houston through and through, and it shows in his work and the pride that he took in this facility. He told me, ‘My kids have gone here and my grandkids are going here,’ and that makes me proud.”
The district is holding a public open house and brief tours at 1 p.m. Wednesday. The event will feature a cornerstone ceremony by Texas Masonic Lodge #177 of Houston and the placing of a time capsule that will include bond issue information, photos of the school board members and construction progress and newspaper clippings. Dill is also seeking pop culture related items from the student body.
“What we have done here will touch generations of learners,” Dill said. “What we have done as a group – as a school – has reached out and touched the lives of children that are not yet born. This facility will outlast all of us.
“I’ve watched it from ground zero up, and I’m just amazed. It’s beautiful, and I thank you for your support.”
With the bond issue work complete, Dill hinted at the board meeting that he is considering more improvements on campus.
“We’re not there yet. There are some other areas in the district that need attention, but we’ll get there,” he told board members. “As far as I’m concerned, when this is finished, it signals the beginning of the next one.”
“What we have done as a group – as a school – has reached out and touched the lives of children that are not yet born. This facility will outlast all of us. I’ve watched it from ground zero up, and I’m just amazed. It’s beautiful, and I thank you for your support.”
– SCOTT DILL