James Madison High School is a comprehensive high school in the Houston Independent School District, offering core curriculum and advanced placement academics, career pathways in environmental science and robotics, and programs in digital media, engineering, welding, automotive technology, cosmetology and agriculture.
After more than 60 years of service, Houston ISD determined that the old school did not meet students’ needs. The well-worn facility was in need of repair, and a total demolition and rebuild was required.
The school district chose concrete tilt-wall construction for the replacement school. Morris Architects developed the Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) plan, and Greco Structures was selected for the tilt-wall construction.
The athletic fields and parking lot were demolished to prepare the site for the new construction. The old school, only 25 feet away from the new construction, remained in operation during the entire project.
More than 175 tilt-wall panels were cast and erected. All of the exterior walls are tilt-wall construction. Many of the interior walls are also tilt walls.
Tilt-wall construction included the main two-story foyer that is flanked by three 2-story tilt-wall academic wings on one side and tilt-wall performing arts and community spaces on the other. Near the academic wings are two gymnasiums, natatorium, and auto mechanics and welding areas, which are also tilt-wall structures.
With half the site taken by the existing school, the building lay-out and tight site created difficulties for casting and erection of panels. In addition, a week before beginning panel construction, Hurricane Harvey dumped a large amount of rain on the site. The first major challenge was trying to keep the site dewatered enough to allow construction to progress.
Sequencing was a major challenge, especially for interior panels. Close proximity to the existing school limited crane maneuverability, and interior panels could not be set from outside of the building. With only 25 feet of space between the old and new buildings, interior panels had to be erected from inside the structure.
Part of the foundation slab had to remain unpoured to create the crane path. Once the crane had erected the panels and steel, the incomplete part of the foundation could be poured and finished.
The exterior is assembled with variety of panel widths, lengths and heights. The gymnasium panels are the school’s tallest at 39’ 4”. The longest panel is more than 25 feet, and the heaviest panel weighs more than 97,000 pounds.
Though the building is tilt-wall, it is not an uninspired, plain concrete surface. Textured form liner finishes were incorporated as architectural features. Texture variations give the appearance of different shadowing and coloring. One of the textured panel finishes resembles barnwood, with one-inch deep ribs randomly spaced from five-inch to eight-inch widths. The majority of the building exterior is form liner finishing.
The new amenity-laden 281,000-square-foot school will accommodate 2,100 students. The ability to perform construction work in conjunction with the existing active school in operation along with maintaining student safety are notable project achievements.