An example of the kind of flexible classroom that would be part of the two-story addition at Solar Preparatory School on Henderson.

Solar Preparatory, housed in the former Bonham Elementary school on Henderson Avenue, may be the most innovative school in Dallas ISD. It’s an all-girls school with a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) focus whose enrollment is socioeconomically diverse, and whose school day extends an hour beyond the traditional schedule so all students can participate in extra-curriculars.

A community meeting about changes to the existing school and a two-story addition in back will take place tonight, Jan. 23, 5:30 in the Solar cafeteria. Right now, Solar is a kindergarten through second-grade school, but eventually, it will house girls up through eighth-grade.

The circa 1923 building simply isn’t equipped to handle all of that. First of all, Solar ultimately hopes to be educating 1,100 students, and historical Bonham has a capacity of only 381. Plus, a structure from the early 20th century isn’t designed for the kind of 21st century learning Solar wants to facilitate.

The good news for preservationists is that the historical building isn’t going anywhere. Though it doesn’t have any kind of historic designation that protects it, “we do know that neighborhood folks like the way the original building looks,” says Rick Martin, the project manager for Solar’s redesign and construction, funded by the 2015 DISD bond. The interior will be reconfigured a bit for modern-day instruction, however. (Also, most of those boys’ bathrooms, essential in the school’s history, are a waste of space now.)

Another major change, which should please residents near the school, is a plan to reroute carpool traffic behind the school. Though a number of girls transfer in from nearby elementary schools — 18 from Lakewood, 12 from Robert E. Lee, 8 from Stonewall Jackson, for example — Solar is a commuter school that invites applicants from across Dallas ISD, who are selected via lottery. This translates to lots of bus and car congestion.

Martin notes that at the first community bond meeting last fall, traffic was a hot topic.

“From what I understand, the first couple of days [of school] were pretty much a madhouse over there,” he says. “It’s 15 min of pure chaos, but it is only 15 minutes. We do expect to improve that with the addition.”

The addition would replace the temporary buildings behind the school and add a parking lot in back with a lengthy carpool route. Buses would continue to pick up on the east side, but the district expects to alleviate most of the traffic that currently backs up on Henderson.

One of the more innovative plans for Solar’s two-story addition is the inclusion of several flexible spaces that can be partitioned off into classroom space when needed but also can be used as large, “open collaborative spaces” for events or instruction or clubs, Martin says. In older schools, “we’re going back in and retrofitting and actually getting rid of classrooms and opening up space,” Martin says. “This school will start out that way.”

Updated plans will be revealed at this evening’s community meeting, and families with incoming kindergartners can apply for a spot until next Tuesday, Jan. 31.

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