A ‘new urban planner’ college is taking shape in Austin

Mueller is a 700-acre planned community located three miles from Austin, Texas on what was the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport that dated back to the late 1920s.

A public-private partnership between the City of Austin’s Department of Economic Development and the Catellus Development Corporation, Mueller, when built over the next decade, will include at least 6,900 homes and apartments, a downtown 42-acre mixed use known as Aldrich Street, 5.5 million square feet of commercial space, 750,000 square feet of retail space, medical center, film studio, museum for kids, an 83,000 square foot grocery store and 140 acres of parks and open space.

In support of this “new urban environment,” the Austin Independent School District, which already has a performing arts center that opened within Mueller in early 2015, began construction last August on a 130,000 square foot middle school on 10 acres along the northeast section of the city and Mueller, which will also serve as a hub connecting the school to neighborhoods in this community. The middle school, with a capacity of 800 students in grades 6 to 8, is expected to be ready to accept students and teachers in August 2023.

The new college “will contribute to the fabric of the community,” predicts Kate Mraw, ALEP, RID, LEED AP BD+C, principal and design director for LPA, the architect of this project. The school will be connected to Mueller cycling and hiking trails and will provide a park and other public spaces on its premises. And because it will attract students beyond the immediate neighborhood, it will bring greater diversity to the community.

A FASTER WAY TO BUILD SCHOOLS

LPA and Coleman Landscape Architects are working with Joeris General Contractors, which Austin ISD has hired to lead this design-build project.

Burton Hackney, vice president of Central Texas for Joeris General Contractors, told BD+C that while the design-build method is still the exception for building schools in the Lone Star State, “after the shift of obligation, [the district] needed a way to open some schools quickly. The Mueller project is one of 19 new builds and upgrades the Austin ISD is engaged in, funded by a billion-dollar bond that voters passed in late 2017.

Austin native Hackney says the airport redevelopment has long been viewed locally as “sacred space.” At one point, a new elementary school was on the table. But, he recalls, the situation in the district changed: By the time the bond was issued, more than 1,000 middle school students had left the area from nearby charter schools, according to ISD. Facilities Master Plan.

This is Joeris’ second design-build project for the neighborhood. Hackney says his company’s culture “aligns” with this method of delivery because it emphasizes lean principles. “We didn’t have to go through the value engineering process because the GC was involved in all the meetings from the start,” confirms Mraw.

DEMOCRATIC DESIGN

Sustainability was an important factor in the design of the college.

The construction team works mainly from the design documents of the ISD. But the design process also included “a diverse stakeholder group that was heard,” says Hackney. Catellus had a representative in the architecture team. And Mueller “was very specific about what he wanted,” he says.

During the design phase of the college, there were 16 architectural team meetings, four community meetings, and seven neighborhood meetings. The Austin ISD initiated these early discussions, which Mraw says focused on “hopes, goals, and dreams,” as well as the importance of sustainability.

Mueller was the first neighborhood in Texas to achieve LEED for Neighborhood Development Stage 3 Gold certification. All rooftops at Austin ISD Middle School will be solar powered. Sustainable and eco-friendly materials are used throughout, and 100% recycled water will irrigate the site’s vegetation. The school’s design, which takes into account its orientation to the sun, is expected to reduce energy consumption by 32% compared to a reference standard.

The school’s design also 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.

A GLANCE TO THE PAST

The exterior cladding of the school matches that of the airport tower.
The school’s fiber cement cladding matches the color and pattern of the airport’s still-standing tower.

Hackney says there were budget discussions, during the design phase, about the types of materials to use to make the school’s outer skin resemble the Art Deco motif of the eight-storey airport tower, which is still standing. (The tower’s dark blue and light blue panels were restored several years ago.) The agreed material is an integral color fiber cement panel manufactured by the manufacturer TAKTL.

According to LPA, other exterior construction materials are also used, including brick masonry veneer, perforated and corrugated white metal screen, and anodized aluminum for the metal soffit and roof facade panels.

The roof and piling of the school also underwent some modifications to accommodate budgetary concerns. The total cost of the project is $53.2 million, including $45.5 million for construction.