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School, city officials break ground for new school

Booker T. Washington elementary school students gathered outside their school Friday to watch their school administrators and city officials turn the first dirt where a new neighborhood school will be built.

“This is a wonderful day in the history of Washington School — one that we have looked forward to for many days,” Mark Porterie, executive assistant to the Port Arthur Independent School District superintendent, said.

The new school will be constructed at 1300 Texas Ave., adjacent to the old elementary school that was built in 1959.

Porterie said $22 million of the $189.5 million bond approved by voters had been earmarked for construction of the elementary school.

James Harrison, architect with Harrison Kornberg, of Houston, attended the groundbreaking ceremony. Harrison said the firm was planning to construct an enclosed one-story building to house 600 students — 22 to a classroom.

Though the building will boast a library, computer lab and art and music rooms, it is the location that has Port Arthur residents so excited.

“Some said this day would never happen, that we could not build a school on this side of town, that there would be no one left in the neighborhood. See for yourself, a new Washington School is getting ready to be born,” Ella Williams, principal, Washington Elementary.

The school serves three apartment complexes: Carver Terrace; Prince Hall and Lincoln Square.

A new school is much needed, Porterie said.

When completed, hopefully by the winter of 2009, students will no longer have to be outside in the elements, look at crumbling cement from the ceiling or a wavering staircase going to the library, Porterie said.

PAISD Board President Willie Mae Elmore, who spoke at the groundbreaking, said she was raised on the Westside and felt a connection with students there today.

“If we want our students to be great, we have to sow some seeds for them. It does not matter if we are in the north, south, east or west, we have to provide for our children,” Elmore said.

Superintendent Johnny Brown said the new school would be a wonderful learning environment — one that would give the children a chance to become anything they wanted to be.

“I’m glad others are running trying to catch up with Port Arthur, instead of us trying to catch up with others,” Brown said.

Contact this reporter at skoonce@panews.com