LANCASTER—Lancaster ISD is breaking ground on two new elementary school buildings approved in the recent $125.9 million bond package. The new buildings will replace the current Pleasant Run Elementary School and West Main Elementary campuses.
Both campuses are more than 60 years old and carry a lot of the city’s and the district’s history. West Main was constructed in 1951 and Pleasant Run Elementary School was built in 1955, respectively.
“After so many years, every wall has a memory,” said West Main Elementary School Principal Kelli Watson who has worked at the campus for 25 years in various capacities.
Watson said that the new campuses will allow students to “learn, create and achieve success in state-of-the-art facilities.”
Jer Giles, a local artist and the current president of the Lancaster Historical Society-one of the keepers of Lancaster history-understands the importance of building for the future while preserving the legacy of the past.
“We have plans to take parts of the old buildings and place those in the new buildings,” he said. “We may to get some bricks, steel or something that is a part of the old buildings and create a piece of art for the new buildings-so that will help to link the buildings.”
While it will be bittersweet to Watson, Giles and others to see the classic structures demolished, the need for the new 21st Century learning spaces is clearly understood as is the focus on student safety.
Importance of Tornado Shelters
In Texas, an average of 132 tornadoes occur each year. A third of those occur in the month of May. This is why tornado shelters are the centerpieces of two new schools in Lancaster.
“The new building designs will have a tornado shelter built into both campuses that will house all of the students and staff,” Lancaster ISD Chief Operations Officer Greg Buchanan said. “The tornado shelters will be designed to handle a direct hit from an EF-5 tornado and still stand.”
The built-in shelters are part of the new 2015 building code following the May 20, 2013 Moore, Oklahoma, tornado. That disastrous storm directly hit an elementary school causing student fatalities.
The two new multi-million dollar structures will also have 21st Century education features built in.
Benefit of Natural Lighting
According to the Lancaster ISD Bond website, both buildings will feature: natural lighting in every classroom, outdoor learning areas and augmented energy efficiency.
Research shows that the use of natural lighting and sunlight benefit students, educators and administrators. A well-known 2003 study by the Heschong Mahone Group, identifies test scores 7-26 percent higher for schoolchildren in classrooms with plentiful natural light than for those in classrooms with little or no daylight.
With that in mind, Lancaster ISD sought community input on the design of the schools.
“During those input meetings, the community said to the district that all the classrooms had to have some kind of natural lighting, so we made sure every classroom has at least one exterior window,” Buchanan said.
Each school has been designed so that any part of the facility – indoors and out – can be used for educational purposes.
“We wanted to incorporate the outdoor learning areas because students need to be able to move and transition,” Buchanan said.
He added that the outdoor areas change how instruction can be delivered to the students. Plus, it gives more flexibility to the teachers.
Lancaster ISD has made steady improvements in using energy efficiently and being more environmentally conscious. Thus, both schools were designed with the environment in mind.
“We are putting extra insulation on the roofs, we are insulating the windows and frames, we are using LED lighting throughout the entire interior and exterior of the buildings,” Buchanan said. “And we are putting devices on all of the lighting throughout the facilities to be able to monitor and control those lights.”
The new West Main campus is projected to cost $24 million. Whereas, the new Pleasant Run campus is projected to cost $25.9 million. Both projects are scheduled to be completed by the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.