Dig This: District Breaks Ground on Hike and Bike Trail
A Scoop of a Story: Dishing the dirt are (from left): Jim Murphy, Westchase District; Lucio Ortiz, Texas Department of Transportation; Gwen Tillotson, City of Houston; Sandra Musgrove, Harris County Flood Control District; and Philip Schneidau, Westchase District Board of Directors.
City, county and state officials joined Westchase District for a groundbreaking ceremony recently marking the construction start of the Brays Bayou Connector Trail (BBCT).
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300"] Steve Le, City Council Member District F, speaks at the District's groundbreaking for the Brays Bayou Connector Trail.[/caption]
The new 1.92-mile trail will run south from Richmond Avenue to Bellaire Boulevard and will feature underpasses at Richmond, Westpark Drive, Westpark Tollway, Harwin Drive and Bellaire, allowing users to enjoy the trail entirely off-street. The BBCT will also connect to the City of Houston's on-street bikeway network via street connectors at each roadway intersection.
"This is the first project under construction using funds from our 380 Area Agreement," said Jim Murphy, Westchase District's general manager, referring to an agreement between Westchase District and the City of Houston which provides money from property tax revenue increases to finance public infrastructure projects. "It represents the start of many more exciting projects already in cue that will improve the quality of life for Westchase District residents, workers and visitors."
Construction of the BBCT will cost about $4 million and will be funded with a grant from the Federal Transit Agency and money from the 380 Area Agreement. Expected completion of the BBCT is Fall 2016.
Creativity Spurs Charity with Annual Food Drive
Last year the Geo/New Ventures department at VAALCO Energy won their office "lunch and build" competition, held in conjunction with the annual Summer Food Drive. Each department at VAALCO's Westchase office built replicas of offshore platforms using the items that each department had donated to the food drive.
Every May, Westchase District teams with West Houston Assistance Ministries (WHAM) for its Summer Food Drive from May 1 – May 31. Donated food and toiletry items are collected at donation locations throughout Westchase District to restock WHAM’s food pantry for the summer months.
To get you in the giving mood, we thought we’d share some tips from last year’s top four givers on how to stage a successful drive:
For the second year in a row, GBH CPAs, an accounting firm located on Rogerdale Road, crushed the competition with a whopping 3,261 pounds collected. The firm’s secret? Competition among departments and prizes, such as gift cards and even an iPad, for top contributors. “I don’t know a more competitive group of people than accountants,” said Gail Prather, CEO. “That said, we have fun with it. We know how to have fun with it. We’re not just pencil pushers, y’know!”
Prather said creative presentations such as making statues from food items also get her employees into feeling generous. “One department made a map of Houston out of food items, including using peanut butter jars to highlight where employees lived,” she said. “My group made a bank – a food bank, get it?”
First-year participant Zurich Insurance, a Swiss risk management and commercial insurance company with Houston offices located in the BriarLake Plaza office building, claimed second place by donating 2,834 pounds. “Globally, community investment efforts are huge in the company,” said Jason Sauer, vice president with Zurich.
“We grouped our various business units into four teams and the winning team received an office-sponsored lunch,” he said. “We promoted the drive on our kitchen bulletin board and sent emails throughout the month. All four bins were labelled and publically displayed so that employees could see who was doing what. It encouraged some banzai shopping among our more competitive employees.”
Houston Marriott Westchase
Sometimes employees may not be able to go banzai shopping. The Houston Marriott Westchase decided what worked best was to measure departmental competitions by number of pieces rather that by poundage. “If someone buys a six pack of toothbrushes, it counts as six rather than one,” said Sally Brewer, executive assistant. “It lets everyone participate without breaking anyone’s pocketbook.” And those pieces add up to pounds as well, more than 1,000 for the Marriott last year.
Meanwhile, the folks over at Pape-Dawson Engineers have divided their office into two teams: the Hunger Busters and the FOOd Fighters. Teams competed to win bragging rights in three categories: Money Bags (cash collections), Happy Tummy (food) and Clean-Bling (hygiene/toiletry items). The result? About 850 pounds.
Now that you know how the top donors do it, feel free to borrow, steal and otherwise appropriate these tactics to help make this year’s Summer Food Drive our best yet. For more information, contact Jonathan Lowe, 713-780-9434.
Dig It: District Grows Trail Network
In emerging subdivisions or master-planned communities, it’s relatively easy to develop a park or design a winding trail for residents. In an area with precious little undeveloped land such as Westchase District, shoehorning in outdoor amenities among existing structures can prove a challenge. However, by the end of this year Westchase District will feature nearly four miles of off-street trails for joggers, walkers and bicyclists.
This spring Westchase District broke ground on Brays Bayou Connector Trail (BBCT), a new 1.92-mile off-street trail that will run south from Richmond Avenue to Bellaire Boulevard. The 8-to 10-foot concrete path will include benches, water fountains, trash receptacles, landscaping, wildflowers, tree groves and a four-piece workout station.
The most exciting thing about the trail is its connectivity to a larger system, according to Irma Sanchez, vice of projects for Westchase District. “This trail will connect to the City of Houston’s on-street bikeway network at each roadway intersection and to the Westchase Park & Ride on Harwin,” said Sanchez.
The direct trail connection to this METRO facility will enable trail users access to METRO’s bus route 151 (Westpark Express), which travels to downtown. Across the street from the park and ride, BBCT will connect to the 8-acre, city-owned Harwin Park and the 81-acre, county-owned Arthur Storey Park, as well as the future Brays Bayou Trail.
On the north end, the BBCT will connect at Richmond to the District’s existing Library Loop Trail., which loops east and west between the Robinson – Westchase Neighborhood Library, 3223 Wilcrest Drive, and the Deborah Sue Schatz United States Post Office, 2909 Rogerdale Road.
The new trail will feature underpasses at Richmond, Westpark Drive, Westpark Tollway, Harwin Drive and Bellaire Boulevard, allowing trail users to safely enjoy the trail entirely off-street. “We’re lowering the existing corrugated steel storm outlets and encasing them in square concrete box culverts to create the street underpasses,” said Irma Sanchez, vice president of projects for Westchase District. “This way they become a seamless part of the trail and users can travel right over the tops of them.” Sanchez estimates this portion of the project will run about $648,000.
Construction of the BBCT will cost about $4 million and is being funded with a grant from the Federal Transit Agency and dollars from the 380 Area Agreement between Westchase District and the City of Houston, which provides money from property tax revenue increases to finance public infrastructure projects.
“This project is an amazing opportunity to partner with the District,” said Gwen Tillotson, deputy director of economic development for the City of Houston. “Westchase is phenomenal at leveraging money from various sources to achieve their desired projects. This trail is a great example of that.”
Partnerships Net Progress
Another significant trail partner is the Harris County Flood Control District, which had to approve all the plans for the trail. “Our first mission is storm water drainage,” said Sandra Musgrove, HCFCD infrastructure division director. “Properly designed trails support that mission, while adding visibility and enhanced security along our bayous.”
Still more trail partners exist in the form of landowners who gave the District recreational easements to build on their property, which is immediately adjacent to the canals.
“Our congregation saw it as an opportunity to be of service to the District,” said Dr. Ed Montgomery, founder and pastor of Abundant Life Cathedral, whose property touches BBCT north of Harwin. “The trail is a way to promote healthy living and family interactions and I feel it will help to change the environment of our community.”
The trail construction should be complete this fall. “We’ve had some rain delays, but overall construction is good so far,” said Enrique Allende, project engineer with Miranda Construction, the contractor responsible for building BBCT. “The biggest challenge is working in tight spaces along the channel. Fitting our equipment in and having to work is tricky, but the property owners whose land backs up to the trail have been great about accommodating us.”
Another owner working with Westchase District is CenterPoint Energy, which allowed the District to maximize the wide swath of greenspace along the transmission corridor running north and south between Westheimer to Richmond. Through an agreement with CenterPoint, the District will begin construction soon on a trail that will connect to the Houston Community College campus at Westheimer and Hayes Road, with a mid-block crossing at Meadowglen Lane. The trail is an example of a larger effort between CenterPoint and the City of Houston to enhance the use of some 500 miles of transmission corridors crisscrossing the city.
“While the trail itself is pretty basic, we’re looking at adding landscaping and benches to some open spaces just off the trail,” said Sanchez. “It will be yet another outdoor amenity that will help enlarge our trail network and enhance walkability in Westchase District.” She added that the trail will cost about $600,000, is paid for with funds from the 380 Area Agreement and a federal grant, and should be completed by the end of the year.
Just Chillin’ at the Local Trane Station
Among the most crucial elements of maintaining a large office building in Houston is regulating the building’s temperature and air quality. Today’s modern offices strive to maximize efficiency while minimizing energy consumption and operational costs. One of the leading companies servicing many such buildings, Hunton Group, is located right here in Westchase District.
Sizeable and Centered
Since 1981, Hunton Group has provided Trane-brand HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) equipment, service, control systems and solutions for building owners throughout Texas. It is the largest independent distributer of commercial, industrial and residential HVAC systems in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, as well as being the largest distributor of Trane product worldwide.
In 1990, Houston Trane constructed its 54,000 square-foot headquarters at 10555 Westpark Drive, later changing its name to Hunton Group in 2004. “When we built our headquarters here, we predicted that Westchase District was going to be the new center of Houston,” said R.O. Hunton, chairman and CEO. “We were right. It’s a great location that allows our associates to get in and out easily to reach our customers.”
The company has five divisions that cover residential, commercial, rental, parts and services and building controls. On the commercial side, the company’s portfolio includes such Westchase District offices as CityWest Place, the Hilton Houston Westchase, NOV Tower and Westchase Park 1 & 2, which is LEED Gold certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.
“When people think of energy services companies, they usually think of oil and gas,” said Richard Hunton, president, COO and son of R.O. Hunton. “But we’re a building energy services company. About 60 percent of energy consumption comes from residential and commercial buildings. We’re here to collaborate on solutions so that energy doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.”
Making Buildings Smarter
[caption id="attachment_5657" align="alignleft" width="300"] Cornering the Market: The Hunton Group’s Convergentz building controls subsidiary is located at the corner of Westpark and Hunton Drives.[/caption]
One way Hunton Group is saving customers money is through its Convergentz subsidiary which uses hardware and software to control not only HVAC systems but to integrate with lighting, fire alarms, energy metering, chiller plant optimization and tenant override management. “We take multiple building systems and integrate them so that building managers see a consistent dashboard regardless of the underlying hardware,” said Nathan Hopkins, senior project engineer. “This helps our clients analyze any energy and system inefficiencies, prevent operational downtime and maintain peak performance of their buildings.”
“Hunton has installed two 820-ton Trane chillers for us at NOV Tower, our new 24-story, 440,000-square foot development,” said Bahman Mozafari, vice president with Woodbranch Management, Inc. “In addition, through them, we are in the process of installing a state-of-the-art control system for both NOV Tower and Millennium Tower which will control all HVAC equipment with the latest technology.”
Voted by the Houston Chronicle as one of 2015’s top Houston workplaces, Richard Hunton said the company’s culture emphasizes employee wellness, public recognition of its team members and morale-building events like snow cone parties and crazy hat days. “Even though we’ve grown to more than 400 employees nationwide, we’re still a family business and that includes everyone from our dealers and sales team to our service technicians and office staff,” he said. “Customers work with people, not companies and we make sure hard work never goes unnoticed.”
Hunton Group10555 Westpark Drive713-266-3900huntongroup.com
Stuffing Buns across the Country
Behold the Texas kolache: a spin on Czech- and Slovak- inspired homemade dough filled with meats, cheeses or fruits. Over the years, the popularity of the semisweet pastries has grown from central and southeast Texas to spread across the country. While both Caldwell and West, Texas assert themselves to be the state’s kolache capitals, Westchase District lays claim as the birthplace of Kolache Factory, one of the fastest growing companies in Houston.
Though now headquartered in Katy, the enterprise was co-founded by John and Jerri Banks in 1982 in Westchase District at the Woodlake Square shopping center. “After a couple of years we moved south across the street to 9711 Westheimer because it was a better traffic direction for selling to morning commuters,” said Dawn Nielsen, Kolache Factory vice president and the Banks’ daughter.
The store closed in 2013, but Kolache Factory remains a prominent presence in the area with two Westchase District locations: one at 10535 Westheimer Road (which features a drive-thru window) and one at 10455 Briar Forest Drive. “There’s a great mix of commercial and residential traffic coming in and out of Westchase District,” Nielsen said. “Our Briar Forest store reaches folks not on Westheimer and vice versa.”
Recognized as one of the top five drive-thrus in America by Food Network, the brand currently has 24 company-owned and 28 franchise stores, including locations in California, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico and Virginia. “We plan to open 100 new stores in the next two years and we’ll open two or three more in Houston this year alone,” said Aaron Nielsen, director of franchise sales and Dawn’s husband. “We’re upgrading the interiors of all our existing stores and the Westheimer location has a full service espresso bar.”
Supporting another local company, Kolache Factory has partnered to serve Katz coffee, roasted right here in Houston, at all of its locations. “We didn’t want to serve drip coffee like at some old diner,” Aaron said. “Of all the brands we sampled, Katz was simply the best cup of coffee out there. It was an easy decision.”
[caption id="attachment_5655" align="alignleft" width="300"] Decisions, Decisions Customers at the Westheimer Kolache Factory location have their pick of dozens of varieties of fresh kolaches for breakfast, lunch or snacks.[/caption]
Aaron said deciding how many kolaches to bake onsite every morning is an easy decision, too, thanks to computer software that forecasts the optimal number. He estimates that 2,500 kolaches are baked every day at the current Westheimer location. “It allows us to keep our waste low and our food fresh,” he said. “I sure wish I’d had this software back in the days when I was managing the original Westheimer store.”
With each store baking everything it sells onsite, high freshness and low waste is important, since the stores are required to discard their entire inventory every four hours. “We’re not like traditional bakeries because our products contain meat, eggs and cheese,” Dawn said. “So you might say that freshness is baked in to our business model.”
Little Free Libraries Popping Up on Library Loop Trail
Perhaps you've heard of the Little Free Library movement? The concept is simple: quirky mailbox-like structures filled with books supplied by readers that are free for all to enjoy. Borrow a book or leave one to share with the world - it's a grass roots way to promote reading and randomly discover new books.
Westchase District is getting on the literacy love by installing its first Little Free Library this week at the west entrance to the Library Loop Trail, next to the Robinson Westchase Library, 3223 Wilcrest Drive.
The movement began in 2009 when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, built a model of a one room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother. She was a teacher who loved to read, so he filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard. His neighbors and friends loved it. He built several more and gave them away. Each one had a sign that said FREE BOOKS.As of March 2016, more than 1,000 Little Free Libraries have been donated in Texas alone.
Among the initial titles found in Westchase District's enclosed, two-story, birdhouse-looking bookshelf:
Tuesdays with Morrie
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Great Gatsby (complete with handwritten notes!)
"They create another cool amenity for our trail users and they help foster a literacy-friendly community," said Louis Jullien, Westchase District's project director. "I hope people will find new reading favorites and that they will share their favorite books with others."
The installation is only the first of several Little Free Libraries to be located along the trail. Another one, sponsored by Zachry Group, will appear soon. If you or your company would like to sponsor a Little Free Library in Westchase District, contact Louis Jullien, 713-780-9434.