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The Charles Bender High School Performing Arts Center, 611 Higgins Street, opened for the first time April 10 to the school's alumni and guests, who were the first to see the new building since its $4.5 million makeover. The day was a long time coming for many, who hoped against hope that the old building would not be torn down.
For soon-to-retire Humble Mayor Donnie McMannes, the restoration is personal.
“I graduated from here in 1953 … and my wife in '54,” he said as he entered the hallway of the newly restored building from the back door. “I've been down here every day. Most everything that went in here I either had to bring to it or agree to it.”
The cost of the renovation did not include the second floor of the building. That will likely be restored in the future, but no plans have yet been made. McMannes said that there was no bond issued, no added taxes and all is paid in full.
The cornerstone for Charles Bender High School was laid Sept 29, 1929, and the school held its final commencement in 1964. It was then used as a junior high school for another decade. It eventually became Humble ISD's administration building and was later used for curriculum and development, until newer buildings took on those roles and the old school remained abandoned from 2003 until 2011.
The land that the school sits on was donated in 1909 by the estate of Charles Bender.
With the vacant building in disrepair and with the cost of remediating all the health and other hazards, especially asbestos, too much for the district to spend, it was decided the old school would be demolished at a cost of $450,000; still a fraction of the cost of a renovation.
That's when the City of Humble stepped in, with McMannes at the helm, and he and the City Council members asked the school district if they could have the building and land, and restore it.
The district agreed and the result is now the new Charles Bender High School Performing Arts Center.
“I know I can speak for our entire board in saying that conveying the old Bender High School Building to the City of Humble may be one of the best decisions ever made,” said Humble ISD Superintendent Dr. Guy Sconzo. “Mayor McMannes and City Council have done a fabulous job in restoring the building and creating an arts venue that is nothing short of superb. The facility is very steeped in important memories and milestones in Humble's rich history. Thanks to the City, its character is now also showing the beauty our community deserves.”
Scott Brady, a graduate of Humble High School, of Joiner Architects, handled the designs for the renovation.
The facility will open several times a year for various public performances.