The Healy-Murphy Center alternative high school launched a $5 million capital campaign drive Thursday to build a new child development center on the near Eastside for children of at-risk teens who attend the center and of past graduates.

The current child development center is made up of a 19th century two-story home, a cinder block building, and an additional 30-year-old portable building for pre-K classes.

Each building needs extensive foundational work and new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. The cost of these repairs matches the cost of developing a new center, said Douglas Watson, executive director of the Healy-Murphy Center.

And instead of walking across the busy Nolan Street to access these services in the current facility, young parents will be able to pick up, drop off, and check on their children next door at the newly unified campus.

“We won’t be crossing the street anymore,” Watson said. “Right now we really can’t cross the young children across the street over to use Holy Spirit Hall. Having it all together will mean that we’ll be able to share more of the services.”

The current facility has capacity to care for about 115 children, Watson said. The new center will host 136.

Sisters of the Holy Spirit, “the first Catholic community of religious women founded in Texas,” according to the Texas State Historical Association, operated the school from 1893 to 1970. The Sisters remain sponsors of the school and made an initial $1 million donation to Healy-Murphy’s campaign.

For over 125 years, the center has offered a nonprofit alternative high school and GED program for at-risk youth. The child development center located across from the Eastside campus offers daycare and early-education opportunities for infants and toddlers of  student-parents.

“Some of those [children] are from people who graduated, and really don’t have that financial capability yet [to pay for daycare services],” said Michael Black, campaign chairman. “They also use the nursery, but its pretty much for the students who go to school here and are trying to get their diploma.”

LPA Architects designed the proposed 12,000-square-foot building, which will add 14 new classrooms and increase the number of children the center can serve. The design is shaped around a courtyard that adds more natural light to classrooms that give students and teachers more storage and play space.

Naturally lit classrooms improve educational outcomes for students, multiple studies have shown. “Classrooms with the most daylighting had a 20 percent better learning rate in math, and a 26 percent improved rate in reading, compared to classrooms with little or no daylighting,” the U.S. Department of Education states, citing a 2003 study.

Healy-Murphy classrooms will be joined in pairs of two by bathrooms and teacher support spaces. There is also one multipurpose room that provides event, planning, and play space for indoor physical activity should the outdoor space ever be inaccessible from bad weather.

Childcare services will continue uninterrupted in the old center until construction on the new building is complete. The Sisters of the Holy Spirit own the old lot, and have not made a decision about what will happen to it once the new building is completed, said Sr. Geraldine Klein.

The Sisters of the Holy Spirit recently purchased the lot for the new center. The purchase unifies the Healy-Murphy Center at a time of great interest in the Eastside.

“To see it grow, to see the opportunity it provides for our young folks, it’s just fascinating,” said Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw (D2).

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Jeffrey Sullivan

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.