First look: Inside Austin’s new and modernized Menchaca Elementary School

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Austin school leaders study the possibility of closing up to a dozen schools in the city, they are getting ready to open a brand new one very soon.

The current Menchaca Elementary in south Austin is an aging, overcrowded school, school officials say.

“We are very tightly squeezed into our building right now,” says Principal Eliza Loyola. “I have the art teacher teaching in the cafeteria in the morning, I have some teachers teaching in the book room with small group instruction. So we are all sharing our space as best as we can.”

Loyola has been the principal at Menchaca Elementary school for six years and has seen it deteriorate over the years.

“Menchaca was going to need all new electrical, plumbing, H-VAC and an entire new roof system. It was cost prohibited to do the repairs.”

In 2017, voters approved building a brand new school right behind the existing Menchaca Elementary school off of FM 1626 and Manchaca Road.

Kate Mraw has designed schools for several years, Menchaca Elementary is her latest project set to open in January 2020. 

As the lead designer for LPA Design Studios, she says this was a collaborative effort, saying: “What was most rewarding is that the community designed it. We worked with a team of parents, teachers, community members, neighbors.”

Once completed the new Menchaca Elementary will become Austin’s newest modernized school.

“There are a lot of pieces in this space that really reflect modern technology, modern work spaces in the way people collaborate and work together,” explains Loyola. 

The new school will be complete with 40 classrooms called studios, walls painted the color of wildflowers growing outside the building with bright greens and orange hues fostering a connection between the students and nature. 

“We are most excited about the connection to the outdoors,” explains Mraw. “There are a lot of courtyards, really maintaining the existing tree location was super important so you’ll see how those are strategically located around the campus.”

In the current school, some classrooms don’t have access to sunlight throughout the entire day. But in the new school, every space will have a window at eye-level for students.

There’s a media center and walls that can retract to create a bigger space if needed. Once complete, the school will have room to hold up to 870 students. 

A far cry from what students and staff are currently experiencing while waiting for their new school to open and moral boost for a school Loyola says is 48 percent economically disadvantaged.

“I think when my staff has gotten used to toilets over flooding and the circuit breaks blowing and the electricity going out, it is the little things that add up everyday and that just don’t create a positive work environment for our staff,” says Loyola. “So every time they come out here to see the construction, their hearts soar just a little bit more. They can’t believe they are going to go from the current space they’re in, to this space.”

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