Students at J.T. Brackenridge Elementary work on tablets as part of their daily curriculum.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Behind the scenes of the Brackenridge HS project

Architects Ryan Bloom, Daniel Perez (seated) and Project Manager Suresh Modadugu
discuss Brackenridge High School's design during a recent meeting at Stantec Architecture.
I may have just helped the architects heading up Brackenridge High School’s Bond project with a structural design decision! More on that in a moment.

This week I spent a couple of hours with the folks at Stantec architecture, a global firm with roots in the United States, and even right here in San Antonio. Their motto, which is evident from the moment you walk into their north side office building, is ‘design with community in mind.’ After talking with the architects about their project at Brackenridge, it’s certainly true that they do keep the community at the top of mind in everything that they do.

Architect Ryan Bloom compares schematic design to
renderings of the atrium at Brackenridge HS.
I thought a behind-the-scenes look from the architects would be the perfect chance to get a sneak peek at one of the Bond 2016 projects, and that would also help us understand what’s going on across the rest of the dozen projects. This is an important time in creating the designs for what the schools will look like!

I met with one of the main architects working on Brackenridge’s redesign, Ryan Bloom. Let me tell you, he is extremely passionate about his job! He, along with Stantec’s San Antonio Office Principal Daniel Perez and Stantec Project Manager Suresh Modadugu, quite literally held a design session right in front of me. On this particular day, the architects were discussing the front entrance and side of the building facing Eagleland Dr. They say that this corner is so important because it’s the cornerstone of the neighborhood. Ryan feels that the corner of the building should celebrate the history of Brackenridge, going back to the school’s very beginnings in the early 20th century, as well as integrate with the community it’s in. Again, there’s that sense of community.

Principal Daniel Perez, left, and architect Ryan Bloom, discuss design
plans for Brackenridge HS.
The team says the most enjoyable part of this project at Brackenridge is the fact that SAISD is allowing them to explore the true look and feel of 21st century learning. Whereas other districts in the area might be set on a certain style that works for them, Daniel says what’s great about SAISD’s philosophy is that the District isn’t afraid to push the envelope. One example of this is what’s called a learning staircase. If you’re familiar with Brackenridge, or even if you’re not, the large atrium where students eat lunch or gather for pep rallies features a staircase leading to the second floor. One of Stantec's ideas may be to replace the traditional staircase and install a learning staircase. This new method of learning is where students can sit, walk to the next level, gather in an auditorium-like setting for lectures or presentations, or hold classes.

A view of the Stantec offices in north central San Antonio.
But there are challenges, too. According to the team, one such challenge is how to lay out new spaces that are attached to existing buildings. Brackenridge will basically be gutted, but the buildings will remain. Even though the architects described this as one of the challenges, I got the feeling that it’s fun for them to be creative and strategic in their designs.

Now back to that design decision. Ryan and the team debated between a solid wall or an open space at the end of the main building at the front of the school. They joked that two architects, let alone three, never agree. Ryan couldn’t decide between which style he liked best, but felt the open design fit better. They asked me what I thought, and I agreed. This was an exciting moment! Soon, the community will have the same chance to be a part of the design process such as this during community meetings to gain feedback from the public. These meetings will take place after the start of school in August. Suresh brought home the philosophical point: design is a feel; architecture is explaining why we feel that way.

An assortment of tapestries and materials being considered
as part of the design for Brackenridge HS.
Brackenridge will be getting major upgrades to its mechanical systems, along with new piping, plumbing and electrical systems. The architects say this will add many more years of longevity in the buildings. A lot of facade work will be done, natural lighting features will be added, and what’s really impressive is the different tapestries and materials - from artwork on the outside of the buildings to carpets, furniture and wall elements - that will be featured to match the vibrancy of San Antonio and the Southtown community where Brackenridge is located.

You might be wondering about the timeframe for all of this. After deciding the programming, which is all the different kinds of classes, clubs and other academic or extracurricular offerings the school provides, the architects then come up with the schematic design. This part of the design is what looks to me like a bunch of blocks. The architects will then send the design to the contractor to see if the design might fall in line with the budget of the project (even though many times the architects themselves have a pretty good idea of the cost). When it comes back to the architects, the phase called design development - which is where we are right now with Brackenridge - takes place. This is where the original design is refined, modified and the look continues to get updates.

A photo of Brackenridge HS from 1919. Stantec architects want to
celebrate this vision of Brackenridge HS with modern designs for
21st century learning.
The last bit of information I’ll give you, which I think is pretty important, is that the architects will have to meet with the city’s Historic Design Review Commission (HDRC). That’ll happen sometime in August. The reason for this is so that the HDRC can review the design to see how well it fits into the community. Brackenridge falls right on the cusp of the King William Historic District in what’s called the River Overlay District. As you may know, Brackenridge is the only high school in the city that’s located along the San Antonio River. The school itself is not classified as historic, but the city-based committee still requires getting a glance at the project. As the architects mentioned, it’s important to fit into the community. But, it’s also pertinent to make the school look current and modern in an era where technology is booming.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Meet the project managers behind SAISD’s Bond 2016 program

Sometimes the process of huge projects like SAISD’s Bond 2016 program can feel a bit like “The Wizard of Oz.” There’s something happening, but who indeed is behind the curtain?

I wanted to take the time to introduce you to the project managers literally running the show under the guidance of Kedrick Wright, director of planning and construction. They have a wealth of experience - some who even have backgrounds on the architecture firm side of things - and some who have been this kind of project management for many, many years.

The Bond 2016 project managers and their projects include:

Abigail Grass: Jefferson High School, Fox Tech High School, Irving Dual Language Academy
David Olguin: J.T. Brackenridge Elementary, Edison High School, Rogers Middle
Art Najera: Tafolla Middle School, Burbank High School, Lanier High School
Yamel Natividad: Bowden Academy
Terry Salli: Brackenridge High School, Sam Houston High School, Davis Middle School

Bond projects are obviously really big tasks, and completing them is done in a number of ways. I asked Kamal ElHabr, associate superintendent of facilities at SAISD, how past bond projects worked.

He told me that programs back in 1997 and 2001 were internally managed, using project managers and other support staff. At the time, he said SAISD also augmented staff with consultants or extended architectural services to support the staff. In Bond 2010, SAISD internally managed $100 million of the total $415 million program.

For this current Bond project, ElHabr says SAISD elected to manage the program internally so that it provides SAISD maximum control and cost efficiency.

“SAISD has truly embraced an innovation culture in many of its operations,” ElHabr said. “We are developing and renovating facilities to meet the demands of new programs where ideas are continuously evolving to meet the needs of our students. Managing construction projects to embrace ongoing change is challenging. Contracted program management services would demand additional fees with every change. There is more flexibility and cost control when the project managers are SAISD employees.”

Project Manager David Olguin, who has been with the District for 13 years, is overseeing projects at J.T. Brackenridge Elementary, Edison High School, and Rogers Middle School. When I asked him about what makes some of his projects unique, he pointed out Rogers.

“Rogers has a very interesting design because the auditorium is located on the 2nd floor of the building, which is rare.”

Each of the projects has its own unique needs, and the campus community is providing input on the projects through Project Advisory Team meetings. Soon, the community will also weigh in on the projects once the Community Meetings begin.

One of the projects Abigail Grass is managing is the historic Jefferson High School. She says the structural work under the building will be a great construction accomplishment taking into account the building’s historical significance. Grass, a former Career and Technical education teacher, also says another one of her projects - Irving Middle School - is very important because it is transitioning from a middle school to a PreK-8th grade academy in the 2018-2019 school year.

“I support the work that students, teachers, staff and administration are doing by planning for and solving problems within their educational environment, while trying to be efficient with taxpayer dollars,” Grass said.

The project managers are bringing to the table institutional knowledge and experience, which is valuable to advocating for students in a new era of learning.

Olguin takes his job seriously. He believes that 21st century learning is about combining the right learning spaces with the latest technology.

“By having this opportunity to manage the design of the projects and give students the best buildings possible is exciting for construction services and important for me personally,” Olguin said.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

How pieces of the Bond 2016 puzzle will fall into place

You know those 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles? They are fun, but take time to put together! You could think of SAISD’s Bond 2016 like one of those big puzzles, only with a LOT more pieces and certainly a lot more people involved.

Now that the architects have been selected, and contractors assigned to their projects, the Bond program is getting very exciting. In fact, we can tell it’s getting exciting because a lot of conversations are happening about what the schools in SAISD’s Bond program will look like when they’re all done!

We are right in the middle of schools holding what’s being called Project Advisory Team meetings. These consist of a committee hand-selected by each school’s principal. Faculty and staff, community members, and in some cases, even students, are gathering to meet directly with the architects in charge of how their school will look.

Birds eye view of plans for Rogers MS
I had the chance to sit in on several so far. This part of the process, personally, is fascinating. The Project Advisory Team meeting at Rogers Middle School stuck out to me specifically as a really good example of how these conversations will shape the projects. Robyn Popa, a principal with Pfluger Architects, presented what’s called a Schematic Design to a team at Rogers recently. When I called the firm with questions about the schematic designs, a representative told me that it’s a pretty advanced view of the project because it includes details such as where walls will be placed (many will be torn down in the existing main building). During her meeting at Rogers, Popa talked about widening the center hallways, with existing non-load bearing walls coming down. The building will essentially be gutted to make room for 21st century classrooms, including science labs, that will give students a very modern approach to learning. It was during discussions like this where campus leaders -- people who use the buildings in real life -- talked about their thoughts and shared their own ideas.

A view of the new administration portion of Rogers MS
This perspective will directly impact what’s going to happen when the construction crews begin working!

So, visibility. Where we are in the timeline of events for this Bond 2016 program:

●     The ballot measure was approved
●     The selection of architects has been completed
●     Their contracts were signed
●     Plans and specifications are being developed
●     Contractors have been hired and assigned to work with the architects
●     Pre-construction services is beginning (working with design teams to ensure the projects are on time, on budget, and will minimize the impact to students)

What’s next? Soon, community meetings will begin to inform families and students of what’s going to happen in their schools! My office will be sharing meeting dates and times on our website and social media. Then not long after it will be time to bring on the bulldozers!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Architects and contractors all set

Here are the architects and contractors selected for Bond 2016:

Bowden Academy
Architect: VLK Architects
Contractor: Morganti/Casias

J.T. Brackenridge Elementary School
Architect: Chesney/Morales
Contractor: Morganti/Casias


Davis Middle School
Architect: Marmon Mok
Contractor: Joeris

Irving Middle School
Architect: O'Connell Robertson
Contractor: Bartlett Cocke

Rogers Middle School
Architect: Pfluger
Contractor: Galbane

Tafolla Middle School
Architect: Alamo Architects
Contractor: Gilbane


Brackenridge High School
Architect: Stantec Architecture
Contractor: Joeris

Burbank High School
Architect: Garza Bomberger & Associates
Contractor: Morganti/Casias

Edison High School
Architect: PBK
Contractor: Bartlett Cocke

Fox Tech High School
Architect: Munoz & Co.
Contractor: Bartlett Cocke

Jefferson High School
Architect: Perkins + Will
Contractor: Bartlett Cocke

Lanier High School
Architect: LPA, Inc.
Contractor: Gilbane

Sam Houston High School
Architect: KAI Texas
Contractor: Joeris

Friday, January 19, 2018

Community to be briefed on Bond 2016 projects

Miguel Fonseca, a first grade teacher at Twain Dual Language Academy, presents flash cards in Spanish to enrich the students' vocabulary
Architecture and design firms have been busy visiting each site that San Antonio ISD’s $450 million Bond program covers -- from Brackenridge High School to J.T. Brackenridge Elementary, and 11 schools in between. The complete 13-campus Bond program will include classroom renovations, sports facilities upgrades, infrastructure overhauls and other campus-specific work.

As the firms assess the facilities and develop a scope for the projects they’ll be building, SAISD facilities leaders, under the direction of Kamal ElHabr, associate superintendent for facilities, and Kedrick Wright, director of planning and construction, will begin gathering input from the public with a series of community meetings to kick off shortly. Families within the Bond program zones will be able to hear about the projects first-hand, as well as offer feedback to the firms. The meetings will be held at each of the Bond schools, and there will be several. Initially, the community meetings will help parents, students and school staff to understand what will be happening at their campus and to answer questions. In later meetings, the firms will discuss logistics of construction underway while school is in session.

Plans are already underway for some of the changes to one of the Bond-renovation schools, Irving Middle School, which is in the process of transitioning into a new dual language academy, opening in August for PK to 2nd graders (over time expanding to become a PK-8 academy).  First up in renovations are preparations to upgrade restrooms to accommodate the littlest learners, as well as add fencing and age-appropriate playground equipment and furniture. 

Planning for all the 13 schools will be discussed in the upcoming community meetings.  Once the meetings are arranged, SAISD will announce them via its website and social media channels. Additionally, the campuses will inform parents of the meeting dates and times.

Friday, October 6, 2017

New faces added to facilities as the Bond 2016 program hits milestone

Facilities team members at SAISD meet every week to discuss projects

The architects have been assigned. The finalization of each contract is underway. And the people inside the facilities building on North Alamo Street are busy getting their crews together.

SAISD’s Bond 2016 program is in full swing!

Part of the process to get everything up and running is hiring people to do all of the work.

Meet Kedrick Wright. He is the director of planning and construction.

Wright, who has been in education management for 12 years, was first in architecture. Before coming to SAISD, he worked at the private firm of Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc. Before that, he was Houston ISD's senior manager of facilities design.

Wright’s experience on both sides of the aisle, from architecture as a project coordinator and program manager, to a school district, has given him insight he said he believes will help provide a successful bond program to the students, teachers and families of SAISD.

“The biggest impact I think that I can make is holding architects accountable on the promises made to voters and taxpayers,” he said.

Wright earned his bachelor's degree in environmental design degree from Texas A&M University and a master's in architecture from the University of Southern California.

Another new face in facilities is the director of construction support.

Meet Victor Valdez.

Valdez has been in education since 1999 and previously worked at Judson and Northside ISDs.

He said his role will involve the important task of making the Bond 2016 program run efficiently. As the director of construction support, his job will to be “eliminating the 20 questions” from the project. Instead, he will be ahead of the game by providing the firms a detailed list of the project scope. He’s currently updating the District’s design guidelines to create 21st-century classrooms and the best learning environment for SAISD students.

Valdez believes that the facilities and curriculum departments will work hand in hand to build the best classrooms possible.

“Small districts get what architects come up with,” Valdez said. “We will outline all the details so that there are a lot fewer questions, thereby saving time and money. Our collaboration with the curriculum department will ensure that the equipment, technology and other features of the facility adhere to the District’s standards.”

Valdez believes his strengths include bringing different perspectives to his position at SAISD. Among his experiences are architectural school design, engineering design, accessibility design, energy management and playground safety. He received a bachelor of fine arts in architectural design from the University of Texas at San Antonio and is licensed to practice architecture in this state.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Citizens Advisory Committee kicks off first meeting

Things are beginning to take shape for your San Antonio ISD Bond 2016 program.

The CitizensAdvisory Committee (CAC), which will oversee the progress of the Bond and make sure the money is being spent wisely, held its first meeting to get organized. The nearly two-dozen folks seated at the table are your friends, neighbors and business leaders in your communities.

If you walked in during this first gathering – which you are welcome to do since the meetings are open to the public – you would have noticed that already the members are taking an active role in shaping this Bond program. They asked questions, offered up ideas and spoke together about the scope of the projects.


Kamal ElHabr, Associate Superintendent for Facilities Services, provided an overview of the 13 schools included in the Bond. The $450-million project includes seven high schools, four middle schools and two elementary schools.

ElHabr told the committee members that most, if not all, of the projects include renovations to classroom spaces, the auditorium (if applicable), roofing, front-entry modifications for safety and upgrades to athletic facilities. Indeed, extensive renovations are part of the plan for the aging schools. The goal is to target infrastructure needs including air conditioning, electrical and plumbing needs.

Committee leaders

Part of getting organized means electing those members who will lead the group. The committee elected its chair, vice-chair and secretary following a self-nomination process. Serving as chairperson will be David Garcia (pictured), who was appointed to the CAC by District 7 Trustee Ed Garza. Fatema Basrai was elected by her peers on the committee to serve as vice-chair. She was tapped to serve on the committee by District 3 Trustee Debra Guerrero. Denise Ojeda, also selected by Trustee Guerrero, will serve as secretary.


As ElHabr (pictured) explained, the timeline of the Bond 2016 program is already in action! Right now, he and his team are in the middle of hiring architectural and engineering firms that will work on the projects. That process will take up most of the summer and a small portion of the fall. After those services are hired (and there will be more than one firm involved), they’ll get to work on the 13 schools. That should take about a year. The turning of the dirt will follow, and that’s when we’ll see physical evidence of the Bond in action!


The committee members heard from SAISD Board President Patti Radle, who said that they are truly providing guidance and oversight on something that’s very important to the community. Superintendent Pedro Martinez also spoke. He stressed that all students at SAISD deserve to be proud of the school where they learn, and that the members will help create the right environment for each of the District’s children. Martinez said SAISD is being aggressive in its plan to provide the right tools for each child to reach his or her full potential.

The next CAC meeting is scheduled for Sept. 13 at 6 p.m. They are held at SAISD’s Central Office Board Room, located at 141 Lavaca St.

Behind the scenes of the Brackenridge HS project

Architects Ryan Bloom, Daniel Perez (seated) and Project Manager Suresh Modadugu discuss Brackenridge High School's design during a re...