New plans for Bellaire HS construction subject of 2 public hearings this week

Houston ISD’s new proposal for rebuilding Bellaire HS at its current Maple Street/South Rice Avenue site and to repurpose the defunct Gordon/Mandarin Chinese campus on Avenue B into Cardinal baseball practice facilities will receive public hearings in front of two key Bellaire government bodies this week.

First up, the Planning & Zoning Commission will conduct a public hearing on specific use permits for both projects at 6  p.m. Tuesday (June 13) in council chambers at Bellaire City Hall, 7008 S. Rice Ave. The meeting notice can be viewed here.

Next, the public will have a chance to comment Thursday (June 15) on requests before the Board of Adjustment for variances that would allow HISD to increase the height of the main building at the high school, located at 5100 Maple St., from 45 to 60 feet and to expand lot coverage from 50 to 80 percent. That would allow construction of a 434,000 square-foot building with some portions reaching four stories in height. The $107 million project would construct all new facilities — except for a modern science building already on campus — that would accommodate up to 3,100 students.

That meeting will begin at 7 p.m., also in council chambers. The notice is posted here. 

If all hurdles are cleared through the P&Z and Board of Adjustment, HISD hopes to bring the plans before the City Council for an August public hearing and vote.

After receiving approval in a bond election nearly five years ago, the planning process — which includes a Project Advisory Team compromised of campus and city stakeholders — has been stalled over the configuration of the school and proposals that would require students to be moved off campus during construction.

“It’s exciting to see some progress,” said Bellaire High School Principal Michael McDonough. “This project has faced many challenges, and we’ve worked hard to develop consensus with our students, families, and our Bellaire neighbors. I’m optimistic that this plan allows us to meet the needs of all our stakeholders.”

The stumbling blocks over reconfiguring the 18-acre Maple Street campus — small by HISD standards for high schools, which usually require about 27 acres — were lowered with the proposal the move the baseball practice facilities to the Avenue B elementary school site, which is now vacant. District planners say the plan will allow them to design a campus meeting educational needs while alleviating concerns of neighbors by improving traffic flow around the school and creating a garage and lot that will move all parking onto the campus.

Parking in the surrounding residential neighborhoods has been a chronic and worsening problem since the school opened in 1955.

The main entrance and administrative offices will be shifted to South Rice Avenue from Maple Street, with fine arts, career and technical education, ROTC and athletic facilities shifted to the north side of the campus and buffered from Valerie Street by an access road and a row of trees.

The project will be built in two phases, lasting about 3 1/2 years — but requiring no displacement of students. During the first phase, which would last about 2 1/2 years, all classrooms, gymnasium, pool and cafeteria will be built. The second, year-long phase will add the parking garage, administrative offices, fine arts facilities and athletic fields.

“We’ve been working on this project for nearly four years, and this is the best proposal I’ve seen,” McDonough said. “So far, I’ve heard positive feedback from our Project Advisory Team, parents, and neighbors. I’m hopeful that our students will finally get the 21st century facility they deserve.”

The project website can be viewed here.

Based in part on a news release from Houston ISD