LPA Unveils Design of New Middle School in Northeast Austin

LPA recently unveiled the design of a new three-story middle school in Austin, Texas that will serve the northeast section of the city and Mueller, the city’s burgeoning new urbanist development built on the site of the city’s former airport.

The 130,000-square-foot campus, on 10 acres that once served as the airport runway, will support Austin Independent School District’s (AISD’s) vision of “reinventing the urban school experience,” creating a campus focused on interdisciplinary, project-driven learning. The campus, designed to meet LEED Gold standards, also will double as a community hub, creating a strong link between the school and its surrounding transit-oriented neighborhoods.

“LPA and Joeris General Contractors worked together through the integrated design-build delivery method to ensure that AISD’s priorities across stakeholders were balanced in the design,” said Drew Johnson, Director of Bond Planning and Project Controls for the AISD Construction Management Department. “That process of engaged listening ultimately led to a project that we are all excited to see come into reality and begin impacting the students it is intended for.”

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The district recently hosted a virtual meeting to update community members, parents, teachers and staff on the design, construction schedule and planned curriculum for the school, currently referred to simply as the “New Middle School in Northeast Austin.”

“This school is the direct result of a wonderful collaborative process with educators and the community,” says LPA design director Kate Mraw. “AISD really trusted the design team to develop a design that is educationally innovative, environmentally responsible and contextually beautiful.”

The process included extensive engagement with AISD, teachers and a wide variety of community stakeholders. In total, designers hosted 16 Campus Architectural Team (CAT) meetings, four community meetings and seven neighborhood New Construction Council meetings, providing LPA with extensive feedback to ensure all stakeholders were represented in the campus design.

“I really learned a lot about the current design trends and how they correlate to the ed specs that are used when designing new schools,” said Adrienne Williams, the principal of Barbara Jordan Elementary in Austin ISD and a member of the CAT. “I appreciated the attention to detail and the quick adjustments the LPA team made when feedback was provided about the design.”

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The campus will link to the new urbanist Mueller community with wide sidewalks, a network of community bike lanes and a tree-lined, promenade entrance. In addition to serving students, portions of the school grounds and key interior spaces will function as a park and public asset for the surrounding neighborhoods. A community room, dining commons, library, competition gymnasium, track and field facility and roof deck are designated as community-use facilities.

The new campus will serve 800 students, with a focus on collaborative, flexible learning spaces. The design recognizes that learning happens everywhere, with activated outdoor spaces, collaborative break-out areas, and flexible, technology-rich learning environments designed to support the academic, social emotional and active spirit of young learners.

A wide central courtyard will serve as a “central park” for activities, including social learning areas and meeting spots and available for different kinds of activities and instruction.

“The design recognizes the importance of planning the campus like a city,” said Federico Cavazos, project architect at LPA. “Our experience in mixed-use developments really helped us combine the goals of the school and community.”

The school pays homage to the original Mueller airport with a large, wing-shaped roof; a gymnasium that resembles an aircraft hangar; and runway-inspired wayfinding graphics throughout the campus.

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The LEED Gold campus also reflects the neighborhood’s commitment to sustainability and healthy living. All the roofs are solar ready; durable and environmentally friendly materials will be used throughout; and 100% recycled water will be used for all irrigation. The design is expected to reduce energy use by 32 percent from a baseline standard. (Mueller was the first neighborhood in Texas to earn LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED ND) Stage 3 Gold Certification.)

The project was developed in a design-build process with Joeris General Contractors and Coleman Landscape Architects.

“AISD was able to find real value in the design-build process, which made the estimated costs transparent through the entire design phase,” Mraw says.

The new middle school is one of three projects LPA has designed from Austin’s 2017 bond initiative, including the first project of the bond, Menchaca Elementary School in South Austin, which opened in 2019; and Casis Elementary in Tarrytown, where the first phase opened in August. LPA also designed two recent middle school modernizations for AISD, Covington Middle School and Lamar Middle School.

Construction on the New Middle School in Northeast Austin started in Aug. 2021 and is expected to complete in Fall 2023.

An integrated design firm with architects, engineers, landscape architects and interior designers working as one unit, LPA recently earned its sixth American Institute of Architects' (AIA) Committee on Architecture for Education (CAE) award, the industry’s highest honor for school design.