After hours of debate, the Dallas ISD board of trustees made a decision on the fates of schools that were severely damaged in the October tornado outbreak.
The schools that were damaged are Cary Middle School, Thomas Jefferson High School and Walnut Hill Elementary.
On Thursday night's meeting -- which ran until 11 p.m. -- trustees passed a plan to consolidate Walnut Hill Elementary and Cary Middle School with a new pre-K through 8th-grade facility at the Cary Middle School site. That project budget is capped at $49,800,000.
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Much of the meeting's discussions centered around whether to renovate or rebuild Thomas Jefferson High School. In a unanimous vote on this measure, trustees approved a plan to conduct renovations and additions to that campus, with a total cost not to exceed $82,100,000.
The total cost for all projects is around $131 million, far less than the projected $200 million proposed in other plans that involved a total rebuild for all campuses.
Earlier proposed plans drew complaints from neighbors, with school trustees finally considering the plan Thursday night.
The three campuses have been unusable since the Oct. 20 twister tore through North Dallas.
Trustee Edwin Flores said K-12 all on one campus is the format used by North Dallas private schools.
“That’s what’s available in the North Dallas area. That’s what this school would compete against,” he said. “We want to have some really unique offerings in our school.”
Walnut Hill Elementary was a historic school with Blue Ribbon ratings for excellence.
Other plans call for making the Walnut Hill location a career institute where high school age students from many parts of the city would be bused in for training.
“Absolutely not,” said neighbor Gina Hunt who lives beside Walnut Hill Elementary. “I think all the traffic, all the buses pulling in all these students, we’re not on board with that.”
Her neighbor Lisa Bloodgood grew up in the neighborhood and attended all three schools.
“It’s hard to think about Walnut Hill not having the kids anymore,” Bloodgood said. “Since I went there originally as a kid, I’m not very gung ho about the career institute being put there.”
Neighbor Jillann Ivan said Walnut Hill Elementary School parents do not want their children sent to the new Cary Middle School.
“It’s one of the top schools in the state of Texas and why would you tear apart and mess that up? You should keep those parents and those kids and those teachers together. It’s been a huge success. And actually Dallas should be modeling other schools after this school,” Ivan said.
The Cary Middle School building was considered a total loss from the tornado damage.
Options for a career institute included an entirely new building or one that incorporated the historic Walnut Hill structure.
Flores said there is a third option of partial replacement.
“I would like the full replacement and I think there are some other Trustees who agree with that. But I also understand there needs to be some compromise,” Flores said. “Renovation with partial replacement drops the price pretty dramatically.”
Since the tornado, Thomas Jefferson students have been attending classes at the former Thomas Edison Middle School in West Dallas. Walnut Hill students are going to the former Tom Field Elementary in Northwest Dallas. Cary Middle School students were split between two adjacent middle schools.
Dallas officials hope to have the students back in permanent locations by August 2022.