JE Dunn Construction worked with Harris County to redevelop Robert E. Lee Elementary School, originally built in 1919-1920, into the Leonel J. Castillo Community Center. Community members had expressed a strong desire for a neighborhood center in the historic Heights area north of downtown Houston.

Photo by G. Lyon Photography Inc.
Leonel J. Castillo Community Center

The biggest challenge to renovating and reconstructing the historic building was saving the structure itself. After years of neglect and damage from Hurricane Ike in 2008, the building was on the verge of collapse. As a temporary fix, the county shored up the crumbling exterior walls and the disintegrating roof structure with bracing.

After asbestos abatement, a detailed demolition and safety plan was created to preserve the structure and protect workers. The old asphalt and wood frame roof was replaced with a metal frame, single-ply roof membrane with insulation. Due to the delicate condition of the walls, the roof had to be replaced section by section, with the walls shored up to prevent collapse and reduce cracking.

Exterior wall shoring used tilt-wall bracing and helical ground anchors. Three primary exterior walls, including the main front facade and wing walls, were preserved, and the new community center was built behind them.

A structural steel frame built on the new foundation supports the building and bolsters the existing exterior walls. The front-entry portico was demolished and reconstructed to its original look. Existing architectural elements were salvaged and restored for reuse to preserve the appearance of the original portico.

Most of the unusual techniques utilized on the project were related to historical preservation. The team had to restore the plaster on the 14-in.-thick existing walls, composed of clay tile masonry and brick with a veneer of exterior plaster and paint.

To do this, the team applied a fiberglass mesh system over the plaster veneer after repairing cracks and decayed areas.

The Castillo Community Center was completed on schedule and within budget. To make the most of the county's tight budget, the project team used JE Dunn's cost-control procedures and technology to track accounts from inception through contract completion, identifying any potential variances before they occurred.

The project was designed and built to energy-efficient, green standards. It has replaced a deteriorated, vacant building that was potentially dangerous and created a strong community asset that has improved neighborhood amenities and aesthetics.

Key Players

General Contractor JE Dunn Construction, Houston

Owner Harris County - Construction Programs Division, Houston

Lead Design/Civil PGAL, Houston

Structural Norex Engineering, Houston

MEP Johnston Engineering, Houston

Historical Consultant ArchiTexas, Austin, Texas