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Keeping up with changing times/Crowded campuses get relief as new schools open doors

MELANIE MARKLEY Staff

MON 01/20/1992 HOUSTON CHRONICLE, Section A, Page 9, 2 STAR Edition

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CORRECTION: The map accompanying this story listed FrostElementary in far north Houston. Frost actually is in the southeastpart of the city. Correction published 1/21/92.


Cunningham Elementary School was built in 1953 for 300 students. Nearly three decades later, the enrollment has grown to more than four times that many.

Surrounded by large apartment complexes, the small school attracts so many children that row after row of yellow temporary classrooms -- 51 in all -- crowd the grounds to hold the 1,150-student overflow.

But Cunningham, like a number of other crowded Houston schools, is getting relief.

On Tuesday, the southwest Houston school will lose about 675 students and 29 teachers to a new facility -- Roy Benavidez Elementary School -- opening nearly a mile away at 6262 Gulfton.

The new school is part of a $370 million construction project designed to relieve campuses with too many students and too few permanent classrooms to put them in.

Although Cunningham, by far, has the most temporary classrooms, it's not the only school where the majority of the student body attends classes outside the main building.

Throughout the Houston Independent School District, 24 elementary schools have 20 or more temporary classrooms in shacks that can be moved from school to school.

Susan Sclafani, an assistant superintendent involved with facility planning, said the schools that have the most temporary buildings will either get relief from new schools opening nearby, new wings or, in some cases, a slight shift in attendance boundaries.

Sclafani said the temporary buildings are self-contained, quiet and highly functional. But they aren't always the most desirable.

"New wings give us opportunities to do things we can't do effectively in a temporary building," Sclafani said. "Temporary classrooms do not compromise the education that can go on within that room, but they don't really add to the environment and neighborhood as we would like."

Many of the most crowded schools, were built as small neighborhood schools and communities quickly outgrew them. Often, schools are surrounded by apartment communities that fluctuate with the economy.

Apartments, in particular, wreak havoc for school planners. The opening -- or closing -- of an apartment complex can substantially change a school's enrollment overnight.

"We're always responding to the changes in demographics," Sclafani said. "We try to predict themas much as we can."

But that is not always easy to do.

Cunningham Principal Abbe Boring said her school surged in enrollment when the nearby apartment complexes, originally built for singles, had to start renting to families with children. A 1988 law made it illegal to refuse apartments to people with children.

Other small HISD schools that are overrun with students are Brookline Elementary, built for 285 students in east Houston, and R.P. Harris Elementary, built for 195. Brookline now has 1,175 students, and Harris has 916. Both have more than 30 temporary classrooms set up on their campuses.

The new elementary schools now being built for HISD will hold about 750 students, considered by experts to be ideal.

Aside from Benavidez, two other new schools will open Tuesday. One is Manuel Crespo Elementary School in southeast Houston and the other is Barbara Bush Elementary School in west Houston. Five others will open this fall in the east, north and west.

Crespo, at 7171 Office City Dr., will draw most of its students from Sanchez Elementary, which was built for 690 students but grew to 1,382. Other students will be shifted from Park Place Elementary, which has 944 children in a school built for 255.

Bush Elementary, at 13800 Westerloch, will get students from Ashford Elementary, about three miles away. Ashford, built for 540 students, has 1,052.

Bush Elementary has a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 8 a.m. Tuesday to mark the opening of the school. ......................................................... Temporary classrooms A growing number of schools, particularly in the east and west, are so full that they have to hold classes in outdoor classroom buildings. A few schools will find relief next week when three new schools will open to handle the overflow. These schools have 25 or more temporary classrooms: School:...................Temporary

..................classrooms 1. Cunningham....................51 2. Brookline.....................35 3. R.P. Harris...................32 4. Berry.........................29 5. Golfcrest.....................29 6. Askew.........................28 7. Braeburn......................28 8. Walnut Bend...................27 9. Elrod.........................26 10. Frost........................26 11. Patterson....................26 12. Roosevelt....................26 13. Pugh.........................25

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