Northeast Tarrant

Replacing old Grapevine school helps STEM students learn new ideas

Cannon Elementary School, which opened in 1959, has foundation and structural issues that prompted district officials to look at replacing the building.
Cannon Elementary School, which opened in 1959, has foundation and structural issues that prompted district officials to look at replacing the building. sengelland@star-telegram

The rebuilding of Cannon Elementary School in the heart of Grapevine will do more than replace an aging, deteriorating structure.

The new school will also become a real world laboratory for the students at the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) magnet school to observe concepts they study in class.

“With our unique focus on STEM, this will be a chance for kids to see some of the actual construction process,” said Cannon Principal Tona Blizzard. “You can’t get much more real world than that.”

Construction on the $33.6 million project funded by the 2016 bond package is set to begin this summer and be completed in time for the 2018-19 school year. Grapevine-Colleyville district officials plan to keep community members informed about the project through the district website and the bond website

Cannon Elementary School opened on West College Street in 1959 and has had four additions over the years, the most recent a 2009 classroom wing. In early plans, officials were looking to keep the 2009 wing, but the high cost of remodeling the space and tying it into the new building prompted the decision to rebuild the entire structure, officials said.

The 58-year-old building — the oldest campus in the district — has some structural damage due to issues with the foundation and framing. The site also has poor drainage and paved areas show signs of sinking and heaving due to the area’s expansive soils. And parts of the building don’t conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Project-based learning

Paula Barbaroux, chief operations officer for the Grapevine-Colleyville school district, said the combination of 50-year-old building processes and the movement in the soil created tripping hazards and areas where 3- and 4-inch gaps are visible in walls and floors.

When members of the district’s bond advisory committee studied the building’s issues, along with the challenges in providing STEM and 21st century learning opportunities, they decided to recommend the structure be replaced.

Blizzard said the new school will have collaborative learning spaces for each grade level and may have flexible walls to make classrooms larger or smaller, depending on the need. There also will be dedicated areas for robotics, electronics and 3D printers, in addition to the usual computers and tablets.

“A lot of our work, especially in the engineering program, is project-based learning, with collaboration, design and testing prototypes,” she said.

Last summer, the campus formed a design committee, which visited several other schools and workplaces, including a new STEM campus in the Little Elm school district, recent renovations at Texas Christian University and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas in Fort Worth.

Throughout the fall, the committee met with architects from Huckabee to work on design concepts. A number of meetings were held in the school’s library with staff members, parents and students invited to observe the process, Blizzard said.

Going to school in a construction zone

When work begins this summer, a small portion of the building on the north side will be demolished to make room for the new build. To replace the lost space, portable classrooms will be located east of the building along Drexel Drive.

Barbaroux said a temporary gravel parking lot for staff will go in next to the portables.

As far as coordinating a massive project while school is in session, the construction area will be fenced off. Workers will not park on site but will arrive via shuttle for the work day and will have special badges to identify them. The building project, which will be handled by Lee Lewis Construction, will conform to Grapevine noise ordinances and have a street sweeper on site to control dust and debris, Barbaroux said.

They’ll also work deliveries and major phases of the project around the school schedule, allowing for fire drills and special events.

While Cannon families and neighbors will have to handle the frustrations of construction, STEM students will get a front row seat for much of the project.

“Lee Lewis Construction agreed to allow students to watch some of the process in a safe manner,” Barbaroux said.

Blizzard said, “We’re very excited about that.”

Sandra J. Engelland: 817-390-7323, @SandraEngelland