Will HPISD Natatorium Idea Sink or Swim?

(Photo: Elizabeth Lavin)
(Photo: Elizabeth Lavin)

University Park residents have a history of joining forces for a common cause affecting their city, from a presidential library to a YMCA to a vacant bank building.

Their latest example of grassroots activism concerns a proposed natatorium at Curtis Park, which would be a joint effort between the city and Highland Park ISD and built adjacent to the existing outdoor Holmes Aquatic Center.

The controversy has grown since the idea was proposed earlier this year. The city subsequently hired an outside firm to conduct a feasibility study, the results of which are due back in December.

But residents haven’t waited that long, garnering almost 1,500 signatures on an online petition and distributing more than 200 yard signs through a group known as Save Curtis Park.

Members of the group donned stickers and packed the UP council chambers in late September for a public forum to express concerns about parking, costs, government processes, the environment, and traffic along an already congested stretch of Lovers Lane.

“Park space is really important to people. We need to hold these places sacred,” said Ann Burns, who has three children in HPISD schools. “It’s noble of the city to want to help the district, but perhaps this is not the best vehicle to do it.”

The pushback appears to be working, to some degree. The city and HPISD said in October they plan to look at other sites in addition to Curtis Park. But as with most major projects, available land in the Park Cities is scarce.

natatorium2“All the options are on the table,” said UP city manager Robbie Corder. “This is still at a very early concept stage. The council is going to take a very measured approach to it.”

The school district wants to tear down its existing natatorium in favor of additional classroom space to alleviate overcrowding at Highland Park High School. It’s an idea that will likely be included in a bond package for local voters next spring. To do that, they need to finalize their proposal by January at the latest.

“There’s a finite timeline in front of us,” said HPISD Superintendent Dawson Orr. “Relocating the natatorium directly affects the ability to provide classroom space at the high school.”

But finding a new home for the school’s highly successful swim team isn’t quite so easy. With the Curtis Park concept losing steam, HPISD officials could be forced to scramble, at least temporarily.

If the district can’t find an alternative building site, it could study a partnership with the Park Cities YMCA — with which preliminary discussions have already begun — or even SMU. Another option might be building a new natatorium on land HPISD already owns, but that might require a shuffling of other priorities.

Orr said the district probably won’t purchase land to build a natatorium on its own. Nor will it look for sites or partners outside of the district boundaries.

“We were always about exploring a concept and determining whether it made sense for the city and the school district to partner. The idea of a partnership makes complete sense,” Orr said. “Our intent is to look for options. Input is going to be important about any site that we choose. Curtis Park is one location under consideration.”

Corder said a natatorium, which would be paid for through HPISD bond funds and operated by the city, would allow UP to have year-round aquatics programs it currently cannot offer with an outdoor pool.

The city won’t take any further action until it sees the results of the feasibility study by Colorado-based Ballard King and Associates. In the meantime, Corder said UP has tried to disseminate information to the residents and maintain transparency about the process.

“I’m not surprised at all with the feedback,” he said. “The city shares a lot of the same concerns about traffic and security and the loss of open green space.”

10 thoughts on “Will HPISD Natatorium Idea Sink or Swim?

  • November 4, 2014 at 12:58 pm
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    I’m a woman, and I have to say Title IX is a kick in the pants. We have a lovely softball lot that approximately 15 girls use for a limited time during the year, and yet we are searching for more land so the school can manage its overcrowding problem. Forget the swimming pool, how bout we worry about classrooms instead? I love equality when it trumps common sense.

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  • November 4, 2014 at 5:47 pm
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    Is it too much to ask that the HP boys baseball team and the girls softball team use the same field? The HP girls and boys swim teams manage to use the same pool space. Put classrooms on one of the fields. Keep the pool.

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  • November 4, 2014 at 9:14 pm
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    Softball and baseball are not the same sport. Their fields are not the same dimensions. You all should stop hating on softball and go watch a game!

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  • November 5, 2014 at 9:19 am
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    @Softballer–We are not hating on softball. We simply think that maintaining an expensive piece of real estate for maybe 15 girls is a waste of taxpayer money. Sorry, I know Title IX applies, but it seems that the good of the many is sacrificed for just a few. It’s pretty ridiculous.

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  • November 5, 2014 at 12:09 pm
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    Does a community with a population of about 32,000 really need 3 natatoriums (natatoria??)? Come on people, there has to be a way to use what is already here (SMU) or what is on the horizon (the Y).

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  • November 5, 2014 at 12:58 pm
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    It doesn’t get cold in the bubble until November. So why can’t they use the pool at Curtis park until then. Is there not some type of temporary structure we could put over the pool from November until March (when the high school season is over)? If not, could we at least heat the pool during that period. Seems to be a lot cheaper than building and staffing a natatorium.

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  • November 5, 2014 at 1:43 pm
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    Swimmers are a crazy bunch–most of whom like to swim before work/school. Morning school swim practice at the Y or SMU will crowd out the other swimmers. I can hear the howling already. Less controversy if the swimmers were displacing water aerobics. 😉

    Total lack of leadership and vision by community leaders (with their allowance of more multi-family dwellings) have us in this bind.

    Consequences: education gets diluted, kids less prepared for college, value of HP education declines as do single family housing prices, private school tuitions rise.

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  • November 6, 2014 at 4:59 pm
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    If the test is the # of players, let’s get rid of the gyms and tennis courts too. Only football will survive. Think of all the classrooms we can build now!

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  • November 8, 2014 at 12:39 am
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    HPISD must look at other options for a new natatorium. Curtis Park can’t afford to give up precious space for a building, not to mention the necessary parking. If we do that, we’ll essentially lose the park, certainly much of it. It’s a nutty idea.

    Reply

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