As it turns 100 years old, Highland Park ISD is still growing.
However, the facilities problems facing HPISD trustees are different than those of some of their suburban counterparts.
In cities such as Frisco or Mansfield, there’s plenty of land to build new campuses to accommodate sprawling population growth. But those solutions aren’t available in the Park Cities, where a steady surge in enrollment has led to classrooms and corridors becoming crowded without an influx of new subdivisions or multifamily complexes.
The district confirmed the growth in June, when a demographic study showed more than 7,000 students in about 6.5 square miles, an increase of more than 11 percent in the past five years. Demographers forecast continued growth at least for the short-term future.
The statistics didn’t catch district officials by surprise. They’ve known for years that their campuses are bursting at the seams.“All indications are that we are growing and will continue to grow,” said HPISD Superintendent Dawson Orr. “It’s exciting, but it will be a lot of work.”
Priorities and potential solutions have been thrown around for months among school officials and SHW Group Inc., a Plano-based architectural firm hired by HPISD to figure out how to accommodate so many new students in a landlocked district.
Of course, the path to creating a master plan for the future starts with a bond election, which could happen as soon as May 2015. But how much the bond issue will cost voters, and what will be included, is still very much up for debate.
“Our community members understand that we have to take some dramatic steps to prepare for the kids that are coming,” said HPISD board president Leslie Melson. “We can’t relax on this.”
It would be the first bond election in HPISD since 2008, when voters overwhelmingly approved a $75.4 million referendum covering a variety of construction and technology projects.
Just as with that successful effort, the district has formed a facilities advisory committee consisting of a variety of parents, administrators, municipal officials, and others whose input would be valuable. The committee will continue to hold public meetings periodically at least through this fall.
Elementary, my dear
About 39 percent of HPISD’s students currently are in grades kindergarten through four, at one of four campuses that are each at least 50 years old and already crowded. With more growth projected, a fifth elementary campus seems like an obvious solution.
The fifth elementary school could allow the attendance lines to be redrawn immediately after its opening, or it could function as a relief campus during the first four years while the other elementary schools are being either renovated or rebuilt, one at a time.
Of course, the biggest issue is finding land to build such a school. It could be a three-level structure — which has been a common theme during talks of renovation district-wide — that would help in case the land is tight, according to Jonathan Aldis of SHW.
“It’s going to vary by campus,” Aldis said of the potential cost of renovating elementary schools. “You may not be able to do this uniformly.”
Melson said HPISD already has made plans to ensure that portable buildings won’t be needed during the upcoming school year, thanks to an interior remodel at University Park Elementary School, but there are no such guarantees beyond that.
Several options are on the table at Highland Park High School. What trustees seem to agree upon is an addition to the northwest corner of the existing building, located above the existing parking lot. The space could be used for an expansion of fine arts and music programs without eliminating much parking. As a bonus, the reconfigured parking lot would be covered.
“Anytime we build, we need to maximize our space,” Aldis said. “Parking is always going to be an issue.”
Also likely is a proposed relocation of the Seay Tennis Center, which currently is located across from Highlander Stadium and adjacent to the indoor practice facility. Aldis suggests the district construct a new, slightly smaller indoor tennis facility east of the parking garage, across the driveway from the school’s outdoor tennis courts. That would free up the space for an athletic complex of sorts, with office space and team space for various sports — along with a training room and weight room — that currently is cramped under the home bleachers of the stadium.
Another way to free up space for classrooms inside the school building is by demolishing the HPHS natatorium, something that likely would be included in a bond package.
In fact, trustees talked with the University Park City Council in June about a potential partnership involving the use of Holmes Aquatic Center. So far, those discussions are preliminary. However, the 9,800-square-foot natatorium could make room for as many as 28 classrooms, according to Aldis.
This story appears in the August issue of Park Cities People, on stands now.