For almost two years, Highland Park ISD trustees and community volunteers have been shaping a historic bond package to transform its facilities over the next decade in the face of unprecedented enrollment growth.
Amid very high turnout, Park Cities residents approved the $361.4 million bond proposal on Nov. 3 by a close margin. There were more than 8,000 votes cast.
With that hurdle cleared, district officials are eager to get started. But where to begin? It’s not as simple as just rolling out some heavy equipment or bringing in some new computers.
There are bonds to be sold, land purchases to be finalized, building designs to be drawn, and construction contracts to be awarded. The district will begin working on those details in earnest in the coming weeks.
“We have an opportunity to deliver to the community this qualitative piece of this equation,” said HPISD board president Joe Taylor. “At the end of the day, it’s about the quality of education, and that’s what we’re focusing on.”
It’s the most ambitious bond package in HPISD history by a wide margin, with the most prominent component being the addition of a fifth elementary school, along with the razing and rebuilding of three of the four existing elementary campuses, each of which is at least 65 years old.
Also included are major renovations at Highland Park Middle School and Highland Park High School, including major overhauls and expansions to athletic facilities.
While critics said the proposal lacked fiscal responsibility, transparency, and historical compassion, supporters claimed it would give HPISD the space it needs to permanently accommodate all of its students educational programs without the need for quick fixes.
“The real work now begins,” said HPISD superintendent Tom Trigg. “As an administration, we are committed to allocating bond funds wisely and judiciously in implementing the goals of this bond program. Our goal is to continue to make this community exceedingly proud of its schools.”
At the elementary level, the fifth campus will be constructed first on 4.6 acres the district will purchase from Northway Christian Church. The district said that work could begin as soon as next spring, and the building could open in fall 2017.
It will be used as a relief school while Bradfield, Hyer, and University Park elementary schools are torn down, one by one, and rebuilt over a three-year period. Then the fifth campus would debut with its own student body thanks to redrawn attendance zones. The new and rebuilt schools all will have two stories and underground parking.
“The fifth elementary school has a timeline that’s going to be at the front of this parade,” said Taylor, who added that public input will be a valuable part of the process.
“There’s a very high priority for reaching out and doing this collectively. We want to engage the full community. We’re thinking about that in the broadest sense,” he said. “This is going to be done in a very open and transparent way.”
The high school will see additional classrooms from an addition on the northwest corner of building, as well as from tearing out the school’s natatorium. Other space accommodations also are part of the plan. The Seay Tennis Center will be moved behind the parking garage to make room for a new multi-sport complex that will house offices and locker rooms for several sports, athletic administrative and meeting rooms, and a new natatorium. A handful of updates for Highlander Stadium also are on tap.
“The high school projects are going to have to be sequenced” to avoid disruption to classes and extracurricular activities, Trigg said.
Although the bond election drew strong opinions on both sides and finished with less than 55 percent approval, Trigg expects the district’s constituents will be united as projects move ahead.
“The Park Cities has a tendency to rally and be cohesive,” Trigg said. “I think this thing going forward will achieve buy-in from the vast majority of our community.”
Trigg said although a timeline for bond sales hasn’t yet been established, he anticipates multiple sales as part of the package, with the first coming early next year in the range of $150 million.
Financially, the bond referendum will likely add more than $1,000 per year to the tax bill for a $1 million home, depending on when the debt is issued and how it’s structured. That would land somewhere around $1.25 per $100 of assessed property value. The term would likely be 20-30 years.