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23 March . 2020

Meet Peter McElwain, the namesake of Elyson’s new elementary school

Elyson’s new Katy ISD elementary school is named for Peter McElwain, who recently retired after a 19-year career as district architect/planner. Throughout his service to Katy ISD, he oversaw the design and construction of more than 40 schools, several support facilities, and a wide range of transformational renovations and additions on existing campuses.

To help us get to know the namesake of our new school, which opens in August, we visited with Peter and asked him some questions about his career, his exciting post-retirement activities, and the incredible growth of Katy ISD.

Q. How does it feel to be the namesake of Katy ISD’s newest elementary school, and Elyson’s first school?

A.  I feel very humbled by this tremendous honor and recognition. I am elated knowing that after spending the last thirty years of my career developing outstanding learning environments for students, I will now be able to continue to support students, staff and the community as their proud namesake. I never want to lose the connection with students and their learning. I am extremely passionate about student learning and Katy ISD is at the pinnacle of excellence in education and educational opportunities.

The school has an outstanding principal in Euberta Lucas, and she will be a tremendous leader. In my years at Katy ISD, I always had a saying, “We in facilities built the house; the campus made it a home.” Euberta and her staff will do a tremendous job creating a culture and school environment second to none.

Q. As the architect, can you tell us a little about Elyson’s new school, and what students can expect?

A.  I am extremely proud of the design of this outstanding new school that will open soon in Elyson. The first prototype was designed in 2014, through a comprehensive design process involving a wide range of individuals, including Katy ISD staff, members of the community and a skilled team of consultants.

The school has been designed to support 21st century learning, with all spaces created to stimulate the young learner. There is flexibility throughout the design to allow for a wide range of learning spaces, from the learning stairs to a variety of collaborative spaces. The classroom hallways are configured to allow for individual and small group learning, while each cluster of classrooms is provided with a large group activity learning area.

Connection to the outdoors is evident throughout, including the art rooms and sciences rooms. The learning resource center, previously called the library, is filled with natural light. It has an open and welcoming environment, with flexible space contained within. The materials and colors within the school are both warm and visually exciting.

The first two schools of this prototype were Bethke and Jenks, both opened in August 2016. Bryant opened in 2017, followed by Campbell in 2018 and Leonard in 2019. The process in developing a refined repeat includes feedback being gathered from the previous schools after they have been in operation, with construction details being refined in the spirit of continuous improvement.

This design has been so well-received that the refinements to the design have been minor. Being a later iteration, Elyson’s school will have benefited from the continuous improvement refinements incorporated since 2016, including a widened main hallway and increased sidewalk areas. The exterior colors have been developed to harmoniously blend with other amenity facilities within Elyson, specifically the main Elyson House amenity.

Q. Your time at Katy ISD coincided with the district’s most rapid period of growth and expansion. What was that like?

A.  It was the most invigorating and rewarding time in my life. Over those years of rapid growth, we were building not only a school district, but a community. We were evolving into a beacon of excellence in education and a destination location for families. It was a source of tremendous pride. Success was achieved through an entire team effort involving all sectors of the community. I was blessed to have had a small, but extremely skilled and dedicated team within the Facilities, Planning and Construction Department and Energy Management Department working with skilled consulting teams to support the design and construction.

Some of our most notable accomplishments are associated with student support facilities. When I arrived in Katy, student plays and performances at high schools, with the exception of Katy High, were done on the cafeteria stage. The Miller Career and Technology Center provided hairdressing, auto shop and some other limited vocational classes. FFA students kept their livestock projects wherever they could find a space. Students interested in robotics were meeting in home garages, etc. High school graduation was held down at Reliant Arena.

It is extremely satisfying to reflect on the new environments which we were able to develop for our students. Now, every high school has a performing arts center. We expanded and renovated the Miller Career and Technology Center to provide a wide breadth of opportunities for students. We also developed the Gerald D Young Agricultural Science Center, the Robert Shaw S.T.E.A.M Center, the Leonard Merrell Center and L.D. Robinson Pavilion. These facilities have supported students in allowing them to excel at their highest potential.

As for the future, Katy ISD has an excellent long-range facilities planning process in place which is a rolling 10-year window, or road map, identifying facility needs as residential growth continues at a very rapid rate specifically within the northwest quadrant of the district. The next number of years will see tremendous growth occurring in this area.

Q. You often worked with Newland, Elyson’s developer, to build many new schools in our sister community of Cinco Ranch. What was it like to work with Newland?

A.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with the professional staff at Newland over many years, as we built many schools within Cinco Ranch. As Katy ISD grew and evolved, it was not merely building schools but working with planners, developers and property consultants to create a well-planned community that would become a beacon for families looking for a quality education for their children. We worked together as a team to build schools, roads, parks, pathways in a cohesive and well-planned manner. Often, roads such as Westheimer Parkway and Cinco Ranch Boulevard needed to be completed in a timely manner to keep pace with the opening of schools. The County and Newland supported us well in this endeavor. The development of LaCenterra at Cinco Ranch served as a welcome commercial anchor for the community and represents the same high level of quality in planning and construction. 

Q. We hear you are writing children’s books since you have retired. Please tell us more.

A.  My goal in life has been to support children in as many ways as possible. After 30 years of supporting children through the development of excellent learning environments in both Canada and the United States, my goal in retirement is to continue to support children in a new and rewarding way. I felt that through writing and illustrating a series of children’s books, designed for children between the ages of about 2 and 10, I would gain tremendous satisfaction and fulfillment. My stories surround a young heroine Kris Marie, based upon our daughter. They are exciting, stimulating and fun adventures done in rhyming verse and created to instill a feeling of excitement and joy in the minds of the young reader, while at the same time helping them to read and imagine.

My first book, “The Candy Cane App,” was released in late 2019. It is a Christmas fantasy with a message of kindness. My second book is “The Mystery at Golf Hole Three,” a father-daughter golf mystery story with animals, now available online. My website offers many complimentary, printable activity sheets for children to enjoy.  

My plan prior to arriving at a theme for my third book is to gain inspiration at Peter H. McElwain Elementary School through its students and their interests.  I am so glad that over my life, I will have been able to contribute to and support children as father, mentor, Children’s Museum and YMCA director, architect, author/illustrator, and now as a namesake. My life goals have been more than fulfilled.

Learn more about the highly regarding Katy ISD schools serving all of Elyson’s students in grades K-12.