Regardless of how public sentiment shakes out on Highland Park ISD’s massive bond proposal, everyone can agree on at least two things — it certainly is ambitious, and $358.3 million is a lot of money.
Although a final price tag hasn’t been determined yet, that’s an estimated cost of the unprecedented package that HPISD trustees hope will win voter approval in November, allowing for a complete overhaul of district facilities.
The primary goals are to relieve overcrowding at each campus — including the accommodation of projected future growth for the next 20 years — and to update aging buildings that in some cases have outlived their usefulness.
“We all believe that our children deserve the best facilities,” said trustee Kelly Walker.
So the trustees, in conjunction with the Facilities Advisory Committee — consisting of 22 community volunteers charged with making recommendations to the board — have spent the last several months hashing through various proposals in an effort to reach consensus on what the future of schools in HPISD will look like.
During that time, both sides have consistently expressed the desire to think big, citing low interest rates that offer favorable timing to purchase bonds, so they can avoid patching up problems as the district has done in the past.
Bond referendums have traditionally fared well in HPISD, including a $75.4 million plan that passed in 2008. But the district has never tried anything of this scope, which could add about $1,500 each year to the property tax bill for a $1 million Park Cities home.
For proof that this is new territory, consider the plan just at the elementary level. The bond proposal calls for building a fifth campus — which would be the first new elementary school in HPISD since 1949 — while scraping and rebuilding three others from the ground up.
In May, the district finalized a deal to purchase 4.6 acres from Northway Christian Church for $20 million for the new campus. If the current proposal is passed, the new school would be constructed first, then would likely serve as a relief campus for Bradfield, Hyer, and University Park while each of them is being torn down and reconstructed at their current sites (the order of those rebuilds isn’t known yet).
While that timeline might seem aggressive, “it has become the norm to get an elementary done in 10 to 12 months,” said Jonathan Aldis, a consulting architect at Stantec.
Each of the four new schools would have enough space to comfortably accommodate 770 students, while Armstrong would be renovated at its existing smaller site, and could handle 550 students. That would amount to about $140 million total, including new parking structures at each school.
One of the district’s biggest challenges is trying to expand without the luxury of land availability, and nowhere is that issue greater than at Highland Park High School.
There, the bond plan calls for a multi-story addition for fine arts and other programs on the northwest corner of the school, which currently houses a teacher parking lot. The proposal also aims to fill in the existing natatorium with more classroom space, add an underground parking garage likely beneath the existing softball field, and renovate the school in general. Total cost would be $83 million.
That doesn’t count the $29.9 million for athletics that would include a new multi-sport building at the site of the existing Seay Tennis Center, the relocation of the Seay, and upgrades to Highlander Stadium.
Other pieces to the puzzle remain unsolved, such as where a new natatorium would be located — inside the multi-sport building remains one option — and where HPISD can acquire more land for surface parking around the high school.
So what’s next? It’s the task of the FAC to sell the package to voters this summer, both through online feedback and public forums. Everything needs to be finalized by Aug. 24, which is the deadline for calling a November bond election.
“This is going to be a very large conversation with the community and we need to treat it as such,” said board president Joe Taylor. “We’re all united.”