A new year brings a new beginning for students at Willowridge High School.
After spending the first semester of the school year at Marshall High School while their building went through a $12 million mold remediation and renovation project, students returned Monday to find that everything old has been made new again.
“Pretty much from floor to ceiling everything has kind of changed,” Principal Thomas Graham said.
The building was undergoing some renovation last summer as part of a school bond program when power was turned off for two weeks to allow for electrical upgrades. In that time, mold developed and enveloped much of the building. The Fort Bend ISD acted to immediately begin a mold remediation program, which was followed by renovation and repair, in addition to the planned upgrades. That led the district to house the Willowridge students and staff at nearby Marshall.
“Thank you so much for hosting us, we really appreciate everything you guys did,” Graham said. “You were a wonderful host. Principal Alfred Holland is just an amazing individual and someone I think is a great colleague and a great principal who did a great job leading his staff and welcoming us. But it’s really good to be back home.”
There was a lot of excitement as students and staff repopulated the building Monday morning.
“Being at Marshall, it was a pretty crowded but we knew we had to get in there and still continue to learn until we could get back in our school. Now that we’re back in our school, it’s awesome! We missed it; we’re happy!” said student Aeriayanna Burrell.
“Being at Marshall was a very interesting thing,” said senior Sionna Brenn. “It was like going to your grandma’s house and staying on the couch until you can go back to your own house, you know. It was a good experience for us because it kind of allowed us to be appreciative of our school, so now we’re back at home and we’re really excited.”
“I remember when I came in, I walked into the hallways upstairs and right when I was there I could see the difference because first it was multi-colored and everything and I came in and it felt really good to see the blue, the bright blue on the walls and the really clean white paint,” said junior Dehner Franks Jr. “It was just like unity, you know. The school is the same color now and we’re all back in the same building ready to get down to business. And I just felt really good just walking, seeing the hallways and seeing how much they’ve changed.”
Freshman Daphne Aguilar was seeing it all for the first time.
“I was very excited. I didn’t really expect anything. I knew it was bigger than Marshall and it was going to be better,” she said, adding that her classmates told her, “it was old and now it looks pretty new to me.”
Graham, in his second year as principal, said it was gratifying to be back in the building.
“It was good to see a lot of expressions of smiles and a lot of ahs and oohs and those things of that nature, so it was really good to have the kids come back after that holiday and after being away from the campus so long,” he said.
In addition to a lot of paint, many things were done to the building by crews that spent months working around the clock to complete the job.
“The floors that you see (in library) are all brand new tiled floors,” Graham said. “We have new floors everywhere in the building; a fresh coat of paint everywhere in the building. We also took advantage to upgrade some technology in the building; we have some beautification … It’s been a complete, fresh facelift and that’s not including the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system and the mechanical aspects that had to be completely redone as well.”
Every ceiling tile was replaced in the building, carpets were replaced and each teacher had to re-supply their classroom.
One of the most noticeable changes to the building is the color scheme. Before the walls were painted with a mishmash of colors that were fading. Now everything is white with deep blue and gray accents. Wraps with eagles and positive messages decorate hallways and other common areas. A Legacy Mural is being planned for a wall in the cafeteria. In the meantime, visitors who come to play basketball against the Eagles will be greeted by a giant mural of an eagle’s head that appears to be breaking through the wall.
“We want people to know when they walk into the gym to know you’re coming here for business,” Graham said.
He said the Legacy Mural will reflect the successes of former students.
“We want everyone who comes here to see they are walking on a path of greatness and they are walking on sacred ground,” he said.
He said a welcome back celebration is being planned for sometime in February. In the meantime, there is more work to be done.
“Still have some HVAC issues we’re working on. Our mural we’re working on, our two auditoriums … and a few classrooms that they’re still installing some updated technology in,” he said.
Initially, the district budgeted $6 million to rehab the building, but that budget doubled as the district committed to doing a quality job on the facility, one of the oldest in the district.
“We want to make sure this school gets the beautification it really deserves,” Graham said.