2018—Highlands High School

San Antonio ISD–Highlands High School
Architect: Pfluger Architects

Transforming a 1950’s active campus into a Future-Ready learning environment; Prioritizing campus safety and cohesion; Integrating CTE programs into the heart of the campus;


The goal was to create a comprehensive high school, blending the old with the new. Keeping three recent additions to the campus was necessary, yet connecting those buildings was a challenge given multiple finish floor heights and lack of proximity to each other. The resulting layout encircles a secure, outdoor gathering space, which the original campus lacked. Key elements of the original school were integrated into the design in unique ways.


Original 1950s facilities were not conducive to renovation. However, careful alignment of the new addition’s structural system enabled the design team to reuse most of the original piers. The existing underground utility tunnel and central plant were reincorporated into the project to distribute the new building systems. In lieu of total replacement, the auditorium was rebuilt using the existing structural frame. The overall design emphasis on reuse maximized project dollars.


The campus comprises three parcels, two of which are largely undeveloped. Choosing not to disturb those parcels, the focus was placed on using the current parcel for additions and renovations. With an average heritage tree size of over 30″, it was important to the community to preserve those trees. This design was able to save 90% of the existing trees on site, with some integrated into the courtyard. The school further connects with the outdoors via windows in 100% of the occupiable spaces.


This project is the true definition of a neighborhood school. From the very beginning, the community was invested in the project and participated in a series of meetings. Their input was essential on maintaining the legacy of the school. Many students showed an interest in the design process. They were engaged in a design workshop with our team, culminating in their own presentation to local media. The campus sits atop the highest elevation in this area, making it a neighborhood landmark.


A huge driver for this project was the need to keep the school open and functioning while transforming it into a 21st century facility. The CM-at-Risk, District personnel, and campus leadership were involved from the beginning to ensure the schedule was viable. The campus principal was adamant that student spaces were addressed first, putting an emphasis on academic success. This construction effort will be the District’s benchmark for future renovations on their existing high schools.

Transformation—Star of DistinctionSchool Transformation

The school transformed from an over-crowded plan, into a comprehensive future-ready high school with a focus on career-readiness. The legacy of the school continues, with a clear, defined entrance; collaborative spaces for students; and visibility to various CTE programs offered by the school: Horticulture, Architecture & Engineering, IT/Technology, etc. Exterior spaces were developed to be inhabitable, welcoming environments – a major change from the prior unsecured, undesirable areas.


Stars of Distinction Star of Distinction Category Winner