New Highland Park ISD Schools Compared to ‘Walmart,' Jails

Frustrated parents point to design changes, three-story buildings as cause for concern

If recent history is any indication, Tuesday night’s Highland Park Independent School District board meeting will likely be packed with people who have one concern in mind – the construction of three new elementary schools.

Recent board and Highland Park Town Council meetings have been highly attended, with several people raising their voices to take issue with the designs of the schools that will be replacements for University Park Elementary, Robert S. Hyer Elementary and John S. Bradfield Elementary.

Concern includes criticism of the school’s looks and their locations.

For example, a section of each of the buildings will be three stories tall. And the design of the buildings has also been objectionable to several residents.

The look of the new University Park Elementary, already under construction and set to open for the upcoming 2018-2019 school year, has been compared to a big box store like Walmart and the Dallas County jail.

“It is a leviathan of a building,” said David Gravelle, a 46-year resident of the Park Cities. “It sits in the middle of a relatively quaint neighborhood, which all of the schools do which is part of their charm. And that new structure will have no charm.”

Hyer Elementary parent Luke James, whose children are ages eight, six and two, likens the new buildings to the flashy designs of many modern baseball stadiums.

“I would say that the schools in this community are more like the Wrigley Field of baseball parks,” James said. “If you were to rip down Wrigley Field, which is surrounded by a residential community and smaller buildings, and put in a massive structure there it just wouldn’t fit in.”

Neighbors who live near Bradfield Elementary have even more concerns about the new building, which is set to begin construction this summer.

The footprint of the school will be shifted about one hundred yards to the west of the current school building, which is situated on a lot immediately west of the Highland Park Village shopping center.

The site of the future school is the current site of an athletic field for Bradfield.

People who live across Southern Avenue from the athletic field are concerned that relocating the school site will reduce their property value by as much as six digits.

“We are being told, ‘Guess what you are not going to be looking across at a beautiful field. You are not going to get to watch kids playing all day. You are going to be looking across the street at a three story behemoth of a school,’” said Katie Cox, the mother of two young children, the oldest of whom will be in the first Kindergarten class to attend the newly-rebuilt Bradfield Elementary. “There wasn’t any mention of the fact that the footprint of the school could change.”

A Highland Park ISD spokesperson disputes the contention that residents were not made aware of the plans for the new schools.

The money to pay for the buildings come from a $361 million bond voters approved in 2015, which was the largest in Highland Park ISD’s history.

“Our highest compliment will be if people say that these schools look like Highland Park and that they fit with the community," noted Jonathan Aldis, project manager for Stantec, the architectural firm behind the building designs, noted in a school district news release at the time.

At the time, proposed designs for the schools did not include a third story.

HPISD spokesperson Jon Dahlander told NBC DFW that the district held numerous public meetings over the last six months, mailed out several monthly newsletters and posted several updates on the district website that included details related to the new schools.

It has only been in recent weeks, according to Dahlander, that significant concerns have been raised with respect to the schools.

Luke James disputes the contention that the school district has been up front with its families.

“We all had a voice on whether or not we wanted this bond package and the school rebuild to go through or not,” James said. “We do not have a voice now in the changes that they are making.”

“I certainly like to try to give the benefit of the doubt to everybody I encounter. It is tough, though, when there is a pattern of changes from what the community was presented – which was very specific – and what is being implemented today.”

Last week, the Highland Park town council voted to amend the action that is allowing for the construction of Hyer and Bradfield – the two schools within its municipal limits – and require an architectural peer review of the designs before any plans are finalized.

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