Education: The Ribbon that Ties the Community Together

Education is the ribbon that ties the community together. It is a symbolic phrase with extraordinary meaning for the community of Bellaire, a tight knit suburb of Houston, Texas. Bellaire, like many other communities, is steeply invested in the education of their children and their community as a whole. When the time arrived for the Houston Independent School District (HISD) to construct a replacement school for their beloved Condit Elementary, the community of Bellaire was going to play a huge part. Embracing this heightened sense of community; HISD brought together parents, teachers, and administrators along with members of the Bellaire community to form a Project Advisory Team (PAT).

Condit Elementary is embedded into the very fabric of Bellaire. The school has served the community for over 100 years.

PAT members, many of whom currently have children attending Condit, also went to Condit themselves. Moreover, some of them have parents that attended Condit. The committee was comprised of generations of previous elementary school children who were beaming with passion and pride for their school and their community. Our task of designing their school was not going to be any small endeavor. The design had to not only honor the history of community, but also elevate the education space to the current 21st century, as mandated by HISD. The design had to upgrade, not only replace, a building that had become a fixture in the community and helped to define its culture.

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So how do you replace a community icon? Where do you begin? Early on in the design process, VLK Architects, along with Houston ISD, organized a design charrette to engage the PAT in a two day work session to get an idea of the expectations from both the district and the community while setting the vision for the project. There would be a ribbon of classrooms threaded through a fully open plan library. The traditional book museum was discarded for a concept that allows the children of Bellaire to freely roam the stacks of books and technology tools on their way to class. Every classroom opens into the library, as the library serves as an extension to each classroom; library and classrooms connect, like education and community.

The children of Bellaire are not the only ones who will be using the school. The vision includedproviding space for the community to gather as a whole. Regularly, parents and members of the community gathered at the existing school. One of the most popular events at Condit Elementary School is their snow cone day. An entry plaza was created in the new design to accommodate snow cone day, as well as many other events, safely and comfortably for the students, parents, and community. The multipurpose gym/cafeteria is large enough for over 900 people in an assembly setting, and willhost community meetings. Several years ago, the City of Bellaire donated the land adjacent to the existing school to create a joint use park, shared by the children of the school, and the community. With the new design, this park was relocated, enlarged, and enhanced to serve the children and parents of Bellaire for years to come.

Education and community ' these two concepts are tied together both intrinsically and symbolically in the community of Bellaire with the creation of the newly designed Condit Elementary School. Condit Elementary is an 83,000 sf two-story replacement school in Bellaire, Texas with 33 classrooms serving Pre-K through 5th grade.

'There is a special feel to Condit Elementary, and I think you feel it right when you walk in. This school is going to be unlike any other and that makes us very proud.' - Dan Greenberg, Principal, Condit Elementary