Spruced-Up School

Jason Spencer
Houston Chronicle

The scents of progress – hot asphalt, wet paint and fresh mulch – wafted throughout southwest Houston’s Shearn Elementary School on Wednesday as an 8-hour makeover undid years of neglect.

Nearly 400 volunteers, mostly Home Depot employees, converged on the Houston Independent School District campus toting power washers, paint rollers, shovels and truckloads of equipment to spruce up the grounds. That’s roughly one volunteer for every student at the Stella Link school where almost every child qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches.

It’s good to get out for a change and do some volunteering,” said Sarah Lockett, who handles purchase orders for paint and flooring materials at the Home Depot at Beltway 8 and Bellaire Boulevard. She spent much of the day pouring concrete slabs for three picnic benches in the Shearn courtyard.

HISD officials chose Shearn for the project because the school hasn’t received a significant renovation in several years.

When the workers finished, the children had a freshly resurfaced basketball court, new carpet, bookcases, landscaping and a baseball diamond. The teachers weren’t left out either. They got a refurbished lounge and new outfits from Jones New York. Every classroom now has a fresh coat of paint and new bulletin boards as part of the $50,000 effort.

“I’ve been teaching 23 years with HISD, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said teacher Beth Boggs. “We’re a smaller school, so we don’t get a lot of the perks.”

Other companies also pitched in for the makeover project coordinated by Volunteer Houston, a nonprofit group that links volunteers to the places that need them.

  • National Oilwell bought $5,000 worth of new library books.
  • Transocean spent $5,000 on building repairs.
  • Apache Corp. paid for a new baseball diamond and equipment, as well as landscaping.
  • UBS Investment Bank fixed up the basketball court.
  • Schlumberger fed all the workers. More than 100 volunteers from those companies also did the grunt work.

“It’s very hot out here, but it’s fun to do,” UBS employee Sandra Gonzalez said as she steadied a ladder beneath a basketball goal while colleague Sonya Rodriguez painted the backboard.

Inside the cafeteria, workers stood on scaffolding to paint the high walls, while others toiled in a corner near the food service line where they assembled bookshelves.

Fifth-grader Angel Martinez was among dozens of students using hammers and nails to build birdhouses, CD racks and shelves to take home.

“I’m building a shelf,” Angel said. “I’m going to hang it in my room to hang my trophies there.”