WAXAHACHIE — As each welded bead cools and a section of sheetrock is placed on a classroom wall, the future of education in Waxahachie edges closer to completion.
The sheer size of the new home for Waxahachie High School is staggering, as is the speed in which the small community of tradespeople is completing various stages of construction. Just three short months ago, Gallagher Construction Services had not yet raised a single steel beam on the campus. Now approximately 50 percent of the steel structure is in place, and over 70 percent of the concrete poured, said WISD Assistant Superintendent of Facilities Clyde Melick with his hard hat on as he walked down a hallway that is just a few paces shy of a quarter-mile in length.
The numbers show that the new high school, which Melick stated would be approximately 480,000 square feet when completed, is over 100,000 square feet larger than the current building on U.S. Highway 77. David Safir of Corgan Architects, the firm contracted by WISD to design the first high school constructed by WISD in over 50 years, also noted the new campus is approximately 150,000 and 140,000 square feet larger than nearby Midlothian Heritage and Red Oak High Schools, respectively.
As previously reported by the Daily Light, the campus is estimated to cost right around $118 million and is part of the $125 million bond passed by voters in May 2015.
Measuring 75 feet at its tallest point, Melick said the school would have a maximum capacity well over 3,500 students when the last of over 3.5 million bricks is laid. Simple math shows the 103 core classrooms — not including science laboratories — can provide space for over 3,000 students with 30 students in each room.
However, that number does not take into account science labs, art rooms, the 15,000-sqaure foot band hall, 3,000-seat gymnasium, either of the two practice gyms, the new cheer and dance room, agricultural classrooms or career-specific facilities.
That extra room will be needed, eventually. In a 10-year forecast presented during the March 20 meeting of the WISD Board of Trustees, Templeton Demographics projects the student body of Waxahachie High School to near the 3,000-student threshold during the 2024-25 school year (2,997) and reach 3,106 students by 2026-27. The study showed the current enrollment at WHS to be 2,157 students — already seven students over the current capacity — and notes the district, as a whole, will increase from 8,412 to 11,730 students by 2026-27.
But the size is not what makes the 310-acre campus located at U.S. Highway 287 Bypass and U.S. Highway 287 Business special, Melick explained.
The potential to adapt to the future, room for collaboration and providing adequate space for departments such as the performing arts, athletics, band, and Career and Technology Education (CTE) are three areas that Melick explained would make the state-of-the-art campus the premier educational facility in Ellis County.
Melick, the former director of planning for the City of Waxahachie who was hired by WISD Dec. 1, 2015, admitted that he has a particular fondness for the area that includes the grand entrance, library, courtyard, and cafeteria, as it will truly have that "collegiate feel."
"The evolution of the building and the evolution of education over the next 50 years, that is not something we can even fathom," he stated. "We have no idea what's going to be taking place in this facility in the next 50 years."
Melick used an example of a recent meeting held at the current Global High School, formerly known as TC Wilemon Elementary. During the gathering, he noted those in attendance were surfing the internet seamlessly over Wi-Fi in a building that originally had no central air conditioning when it opened in 1917.
Just as Wilemon has adapted through the years, Melick explained the new high school would be required to do the same over the next 25, 50 or even 100 years.
"That central area, the spaces between the grand entrance, library, courtyard and cafeteria, that is really going to evolve over the next 50 years. In our dream of dreams, we had to try to look at those types of areas and just attempt to imagine what they will manifest themselves into as education evolves. It won't even be for my grandkids, and maybe not even my great grandkids, but just thinking about that is exciting."
Another huge point of emphasis at the new high school is collaboration.
The first option for students and teachers to interact outside of the classroom is via collaboration stations located under or above stairwells. These areas, which take advantage of space often wasted, offer whiteboards, charging stations and seating.
Then, there is a library that has done away with computer labs and stationary bookshelves at the request of longtime Waxahachie High School Librarian Megan Mills. The modern take on the classic hall of books will instead allow for nearly every piece of furniture, bookshelf or table to move freely across the room, as needed.
And then there is the college–esque lecture hall that can comfortably seat over 100 students in its stadium rows. Melick explained that teachers could utilize this room, which is ADA accessible for students and presenters, when multiple classes are covering the same topic or lesson. He used an example of when several English classes read the same novel. The teachers and students can then pile into a single lecture hall to hear from a guest speaker, much like at a university.
"From an educational standpoint, kids learn from teachers, obviously, but kids also learn from one another. There is so much more that takes place within the walls of a school than learning from a book," Melick articulated. "There is human interaction. There is learning the confidence of one's self. Those types of things take place in areas that we don't always deem as a classroom.
"These collaboration areas give the kids an opportunity to explore on their own. It also gives teachers the ability to be flexible and allow those kids to be there and learn openly and that truly is when the collaboration areas come in. It's not always about 2+2 = 4, Sometimes it's learning how to learn, and we think the collaboration areas are where that type of learning will take place."
KEY POINTS OF INTEREST
The successes of the Spirit of Waxahachie Indian Band, theatre department, volleyball or basketball teams is no secret to the district, its residents or the rest of the state. Melick said WISD took into consideration input from each of those respective areas when finalizing the plans for the new band hall, theatre and gymnasiums.
"For those prominent areas like the library, CTE, the band hall, and performing arts Center, we sat down with those guys because they are intimate with those areas. I don't know those areas. I know how to build a building, but I don't know what's going to make a theater pop, for instance,” Melick explained. “It is not always quantity and it's not always just cramming a bunch of seats in there to get thousands of people in there. It was very important to sit down with those who are in there the most and get their input to see what it was they wanted.
“[…] When I'm walking through a theater, I see a theater when Andy Reynolds or Rich Armstrong walk through they can point out things like what makes the sound better than what the sightlines are. They have better knowledge of those type things and that was the information we took to the architect and really delved into what they wanted to see in those areas."
Centrally located in the rear of the campus next to the 800-spot parking lot, the three gyms, theatre and band hall are all accessible through one of the school's four grand entrances.
Melick explained the theatre would be slightly smaller with approximately 70 fewer seats, but has the sightlines and an intimate feel desired by WHS theatre director Andy Reynolds and WHS band director Rich Armstrong. The band hall, which is twice as large as the current facility, has two main practice areas plus several smaller studios and is all connected by the centrally located offices.
As for the gymnasium, Melick confirmed that there would be approximately 300 seatback chairs on the home side of the collapsible bleachers with a maximum capacity of about 3,600 — just over 1,200 more than can currently fit in George W. Solis Gymnasium at the Waxahachie Ninth Grade Academy. There will also be a section of fixed bleachers on one end that Melick said could be used for a student or band section during games or pep rallies.
Behind these facilities, there will also be eight tennis courts, a turf competition softball field, concession stand, sub-varsity football field with seating for approximately 650 spectators, two general use turf fields, and a baseball practice diamond.
"We really try to maximize those spectator type areas so we can maximize the space and parking and consolidate things like the bathroom or concession stands, so we don't have to duplicate those efforts," Melick said. "There will be ways to shut down the rest of the school so those type areas can be open and enjoyed by everybody without having them wandering through the rest of the school.
"With those additional areas, we can better host volleyball tournaments, basketball tournaments and really start maximizing our footprint to bring in and be a regional draw for tournaments and things like that."
Although driving by it might be difficult to see the 300 tradespeople working in tandem with one another to construct a soon-to-be beacon of educational opportunities, Melick assured that they are there and the project is still on schedule.
"It's really hard without seeing the aerials and retrospectively looking at what is going on, and it is hard to imagine and fathom what is taking place out there," Melick said. "On January 2 there was no steel up, and now we have about 50 percent of the steel in place. We even have sheetrock going up. The different trades are just working together fantastically, and I can't tell you how excited I am.
"It's been a long, long process of getting the pipes in the ground and the flat infrastructure in place, which had people asking what was taking so long, and then over the past three months, it just rises out of the earth. We are extremely excited. We have a lot of deadlines to meet, but I'm fully confident that everything will be fully operational by Fall of 2018."
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith