New school on the way

Posted 2/2/23

Bids for the new Mineola Primary School are expected soon, the first project in a nearly $30 million bond that voters passed last May. Mineola Independent School District Superintendent Cody Mize, …

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New school on the way


Bids for the new Mineola Primary School are expected soon, the first project in a nearly $30 million bond that voters passed last May. Mineola Independent School District Superintendent Cody Mize, architect Perry Thompson and primary school Principal Jole Ray recently described the new Mineola Primary School project.  

The planned new primary school will be a single-story, steel-framed, concrete masonry unit (CMU) structure. The building site is located in the northern third of the rectangular, 126-acre plot stretching south from northeast Loop 564. The nearest landmark is the water tower, which will be just west of the new school. 

The school will face north. Vehicular traffic will turn south off of Loop 564 to access the school. The school will be set back from the loop a sufficient distance to allow accommodation of all vehicular traffic during peak pick-up and drop-off hours. 

This set-back was critical for obtaining the preliminary approval of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). A clockwise traffic flow will encircle the school and return to the access at the loop.

“We had to factor in the traffic analysis up front,” Mize commented.

Mize described the primary objective of the new school – that of fulfilling Mineola’s future educational needs. Identifying those needs was no small undertaking.

The district did not rely fully on anecdotal evidence. Rather, they commissioned a formal professional survey on the projected school requirements through a population survey and analysis study. 

The study, which returned a growth rate of 1.5%, was a preliminary step in the long process. The deliberations resulted in the May 2022 passing of a bond for construction of a new primary school, along with other improvements. 

What has followed since the passing of the bond election has been a multitude of actions required for a large building program. 

Mize and Thompson took turns describing several of these component actions. They included a formal survey and study of the building site, as well as a traffic impact analysis which had to be filed for approval with TxDOT.

Thompson advised that the building site was optimal for the type of structure being designed by his firm, Thompson Architectural Group of Tyler. The site is stable with less than one inch of potential vertical rise, allowing for use of a slab-on-ground foundation with shallow footings.

Mize explained how foundation requirements, traffic control, topography – especially drainage – service lines and efficient use of the available land to allow for future building projects all had to be considered. 

Siting and traffic were two of the more mundane but absolutely critical aspects of the planning. According to Mize, the most operative consideration was, logically, properly sizing the new school.

“It is a real balancing act,” he explained, “We had to balance our maximum student-to-teacher ratio (16:1) against cost, to arrive at our supportable capacity. Additionally, we had to build-in extra space for growth.”   

The design resulted in a schoolhouse composed of a central entrance and administration area with a main hallway proceeding south. Three wings of classrooms stretch out perpendicularly from the main passageway. To the west of the main entrance, which features an atrium designed with the latest security features, are a cafeteria/kitchen and a gymnasium of 5,100-square-feet and 5,400-square-feet, respectively.

In order to meet state requirements, the gymnasium will be built as a tornado shelter. The gym will be constructed of insulated concrete forms. The foam-encased concrete blocks will be tied into a concrete-decked ceiling, which will give the gym its resistance to tornado damage.  

The gym will accommodate 726 students, 80 staff and 4 handicapped individuals when used as a shelter. It will also contain a control room and restrooms. 

The cafeteria and gymnasium were located adjacent to the building entrance to allow easy public access without having to enter the schoolhouse proper. 

This is just one example of the security which has been factored into the design. Another security-related design feature is the ability for students to move to all school facilities without having to exit the building.    

Two aspects of the build were of particular interest of Principal Ray. She highlighted that the pre-k and kindergarten classrooms will have toilet facilities adjacent to each classroom. This will have several advantages, she explained, including increased safety, security, and more time spent learning in the classroom. 

Ray also explained that teacher input resulted in each classroom being designed with dedicated storage.

“Storage is a real problem in most schools and we addressed the issue in the original plans,” she shared. 

Other characteristics of note include two family service offices (for Head Start representatives), a music room, a computer room and intervention spaces. The three wings will contain 33 classrooms and house the pre-k to third grade. Dedicated playgrounds will be directly accessible from each wing. 

Thompson explained the next steps in the process. With the preliminary and detailed designs complete, the next milestone will be turning over the construction documents to Jackson Construction, the construction manager-at-risk. 

Mize added that they expect to break ground on the school in early April and anticipate an 18-month build.    

Concerning increased costs and decreased availability of construction material  which had its genesis in the recent pandemic, Thompson admitted that availability is yet a concern. However, the timing of the project will help to minimize the effects through early planning. 

The cost of construction material, he said, remains elevated and has not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Thompson also noted the often-competing requirements involved in school construction. Physical security, fire codes and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements can at times work at cross-purposes.

“In these cases,” Thompson explained, “we always apply the most stringent standards.”  

While a multitude of requirements must be met, Thompson did include a bit of customization to the school, drawing on the hexagon shape, where it made sense, in the design.

“We wanted to connect the physical building to the Yellowjacket moniker, in a tasteful and understated way,” he remarked.

For everyone involved in this massive project, success will be the result of a collaborative effort.

As Mize highlighted, “We must be good stewards of the taxpayers at every step of the process and build and operate a new school which will make the community proud.”