Painted on the wall right next to the Nimitz Middle School assistant principal’s office is a yellow-and-blue striped naval flag that signals “I wish to communicate with you.”
“We thought about a ‘slowly approaching danger’ flag but decided that might be too negative,” joked Principal Dana Stolhandske.
The painted flags are new to the school, as are some of the very walls they’re painted on. This August, the North East ISD middle school and STEM magnet program got rid of their portables and opened a new building, with classrooms, a gym and library, that blends into the original building, which also underwent renovations, to create a unique campus. School officials collaborated with the architectural team at LPA to focus on Admiral Chester Nimitz, a World War II hero who became commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet shortly after the 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor.
“It’s keeping history alive,” Stolhandske said.
The building itself is all lines and angles, structured Navy style with metal overhangs, steel and mesh banisters and gray-blue coloring. The entrance floor depicts an aerial view of modern-day Pearl Harbor.
On the wall adjacent to it is a giant copy of a 1962 letter, 17 feet by 25 feet, from the late Nimitz congratulating the school for being so modern, words that are particularly apt considering the new facilities. The letter was discovered by Stolhandske in an old scrapbook while clearing out parts of campus before construction.
“He called this a ‘modern school’ and now it’s relevant to us again, because of our new construction,” said Alexander Hayes, 13. He was particularly happy because as a STEM magnet student, he spent his days in portables, feeling cut off from the rest of the school, he said.
Lining the campus hallways are your typical cases of the school’s trophies in theater, sports and academics, in addition to old photos and letters from Nimitz himself as well as books on World War II and Pearl Harbor. A bronze bust of the late admiral sits in the administrative offices — one of only two such sculptures. The other is at the USS North Carolina battleship memorial.
“We’re inspired by things throughout our life, some of them are people, some are events, some are things, but when those come together its magic,” said Lowell Tacker of LPA. “So it’s important the architecture is more than just four walls a window and a door.”
On Wednesday, sixth and seventh grade students shuffled through the blended facility — the eighth grade students were on a field trip to Fredericksburg, the birthplace of Nimitz and home of the National Museum of the Pacific War, which houses the Admiral Nimitz museum.
“I feel proud of the history that makes this school. I feel proud of everything this school has to offer. You just learn a lot about the school by being here,” said Maya Muñoz, 12, a seventh-grader..
Next to the elevator is a flag that signals “I need a tug.” Next to the gym are four flags that symbolize “team” while the flag on the teacher’s lounge means “I am dragging an anchor.”
A balcony above the aerial view of Pearl Harbor “gives the effect of an aviator flying over it,” Tacker said.
And in the new gym, a slightly minimized silhouette of the U.S.S. Nimitz covers the far wall. The bleachers below it are dark blue and, when pulled out, look like undulating waves. The mats on the other three walls are different shades of blue, reminiscent of navy campaign ribbons. On the floor is the sea hawks symbol with the school’s motto: Honor, courage and commitment. Those three words are also the Navy’s motto.
“Prior to our renovations, I saw that history was being lost. Kids didn’t know who Chester Nimitz was, they didn’t even know who their school was named after,” Stolhandske said. “Now it’s very clear and very apparent to all the kids and they’re proud to say they were named after the commander of the Pacific Fleet.”
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