Coming Full Circle: The O’Donnell ISD Additions & Renovations
For more than 100 years, the town of O’Donnell has centered around two things – the community and its school.
So it’s no surprise that when the time arose three years ago to vote on a new bond for the O’Donnell School District and improvements for its lone high school, the community was right on board.
“When we did the bond, it passed 75 percent,” said Billy Edwards, vice president of the O’Donnell School Board. “That told us that they wanted it, needed it.”
Parkhill, Smith & Cooper led O’Donnell ISD and the community through the bond process and school design. That included helping the community with a process in how best to decide exactly what things the money would go toward.
“We took a good six months and had 15 meetings and talked to people and had them rank what they thought was important,” O’Donnell Superintendent, Dr. Cathy Amonett said. “And basically from their rankings, that’s what we built. And what we spent. I think we could rank up to 16 things, but we could only afford nine. And those nine things are the things that we have. I think because of that and that we reached out to them — we had great community support.”
One thing for certain was the fact that the school would not be completely replaced. In a town where many of the residents and families have lived for generations, preservation was of the utmost importance.
Among those who have been a part of the town for generations is PSC Chief Operating Officer Jay Edwards, PE. His grandparents and parents grew up in O’Donnell, and he moved back there with his parents when he was in the fourth grade.
The old O’Donnell High School was being torn down around that same time to be replaced by the one that stands today. So when PSC was selected to design the school’s improvements, that event years ago may have had a larger effect on the new school’s future than anyone could have realized at the time.
“That had a really profound impact on me,” Edwards said. “Seeing the people in the community come out and watch that, and knowing how they were saddened — excited but saddened … So, to kind of see it go full circle when they asked us to be a part of tearing down part of the old school and building the new one, it was just really a dream come true for me. And really it’s hard to describe how special it is to me, personally, just to be able to be a part of it.”
Edwards and the rest of the PSC team focused on preserving the past while giving the school a 21st Century education design. Classrooms that use movable desks and furniture to function as a learning environment, get the building out of the way of teaching in the school. The 21C design process would be difficult and constrictive, because the current structure and frame of the school would have to be used, rather than starting from scratch.
And there was also the fact that the students would need to keep going to school during the renovation. That could use up more money from the bond to provide temporary buildings rather than keeping the funds going toward the new school. But once again, the community came together to make it happen.
“They were so together that we were able to temporarily house the students with a community church,” said Scott Reed, AIA, the architect and O’Donnell Project Manager for PSC. “They opened their doors and that was a tremendous savings to the district.
“We were able to spend money on classrooms rather than portable buildings. That probably saved us about a million and half in terms of being able to facilitate the students. And that allowed us to put money back into the building, do 21st Century education and build a fantastic sports facility.”
That sports facility was another point of emphasis for Jay Edwards and the O’Donnell basketball and volleyball teams.
The girls basketball team has become a prideful program in the last two years. The Lady Eagles advanced to the Class 1A Regional Semifinals in 2016 and Regional Final in 2015. They are currently ranked No. 7 by the Texas Girls Coaches Association. So Edwards wanted to make sure PSC built a gym fit for a top level program.
“I’m in a lot of gyms with my kids playing ball all across the state,” Edwards said. “And I wanted to take all these things I loved about all these different places and try to combine them into what I think is going to be the best gym in the whole area. And I’m really proud that I feel like it came together and the team was able to do that.”
On Sept. 30, 2016, the entire town took part in cutting the ribbon on the improvements to the high school and its new, state-of-the-art competition gym. Around 58 percent of the high school was redone, but 100 percent of the town was behind the process and there to enjoy it.
“It’s amazing,” said O’Donnell School Board President Mandy Stidham. “Seeing what we had before — which we loved, it was home, but to be a part of the planning and then see it on paper — it’s kind of hard to believe that we’re here and its done. But its beautiful and I love seeing the exes come back and get to enjoy it too.”
Added Billy Edwards: “You start out with an idea. And then it has to go on paper and then in construction. It’s quite an amazing process that we’ve gone through.”
And for his son, Jay, who first walked through these hallways years ago, it really has been a story come full circle.
“Our whole team just embraces the ‘Building Community’ spirit,” he said. “And I don’t know that it could be better personified than building a school. A school in a community like O’Donnell is the heart of that community. I just think that when people ask us ‘Why should they have us do their project?’ — I can tell them without any doubt that we’re so personally invested, we really care about it for the long term. Because that’s what we built the whole company on is ‘Building Community.’ So its just very satisfying to get to do that in your own hometown.”