When Julie Dickinson, principal of Kolter Elementary School, stepped up to the podium during a March 5 virtual grand opening and 60th anniversary celebration, she was quick to praise the support the school has received from its community.

“You are the real reason Kolter is what Kolter is today,” Dickinson said.

The new building opened ahead of the 2020-21 school year at 9710 Runnymeade Drive, Houston. The new two-story building boasts 91,300 square feet of bright, expanded learning spaces for up to 750 students.

The journey to get that new building was not easy, however.

The elementary school, which serves as a foreign language magnet, was one of four Houston ISD elementary schools rebuilt after sustaining significant damage from Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Soon after, students and staff were forced to the former Gordon Elementary School campus on Avenue B in Bellaire.

“I think one of the things that is special about our culture and community, in general, is how tightly knit it is,” said Amanda Sorena, a Kolter parent. “Part of that is due to surviving several floods together.”

Making way for the new building, the old Kolter Elementary School building was demolished in 2018, taking with it a key outdoor space the community had nurtured since 2003—the Grassroom, a learning lab based around agriculture and local nature.

“It was a collaboration of parent volunteers and teachers,” said Rysse Goldfarb, the school’s Parent Teacher Organization’s Grassroom Project chairwoman. “There was a vegetable garden there and plants native to the area, as well as a pond. Students could go out there and study life cycles and ecosystems.”

With the loss of the space when the school moved to Avenue B, parent volunteers worked tirelessly to bring to life a new butterfly garden.

Construction of the new Kolter building took about two years. During that time, Pilar Hernandez, a Kolter parent and volunteer gardener, shared her vision for how a third iteration of the Grassroom would look while landscape architectural firm Clark Condon provided the design pro bono.

Construction spanned fall 2020 to spring 2021 and was paid for through many donations to the Kolter PTO and support from the Westbury United Methodist Church. The new Grassroom includes a pond, coastal prairie loop, vegetable garden, orchard and butterfly garden.

“We see this as a 25- to 30-year investment in our school and community, and something that will last,” Goldfarb said. “We planned it to withstand weather situations. It was approached with a feeling of longevity and making this a permanent and really unique part of our school.”

Meanwhile, the Kolter PTO has started its Grassroom Legacy Pavers Project, which allows anyone to order a custom engraved brick with a choice of names or messages, up to three lines of text.