Highland Park ISD hopes to place a new natatorium at Curtis Park among its list of priorities on a bond package next spring. But if a vocal group of residents near the park have their way, HPISD will have to look elsewhere.
That was made clear last night, when more than two dozen speakers took the podium at a contentious public forum on the issue at a packed University Park City Hall.
The school district wants to build an off-site home for its swimming program so the existing natatorium can be used to construct an additional 22-24 classrooms and labs to help relieve overcrowding at the campus.
Earlier this summer, HPISD officials appealed to UP for help, which launched a joint proposal to construct a facility at Curtis Park, adjacent to the existing Holmes Aquatic Center outdoor pool. Such a building would be paid for by the district using bond funds, but would be operated by the city.
Meanwhile, opposition to the project has been growing. A group called Save Curtis Park has started an online petition that has already garnered about 1,000 signatures in two weeks.
Many of them showed up at the forum wearing green stickers to share a wide-ranging list of concerns such as traffic congestion, parking and safety, operational costs and usage, and environmental issues.
“It’s a beautiful park. I’m surprised we’re talking about destroying that beauty,” said Richard Dafoe. “The location is totally inappropriate for a building of that size. I don’t think this city should give up any park land.”
The forum was moderated by Ken Ballard, president of the Colorado-based consulting firm Ballard King and Associates, which is conducting a $31,000 feasibility study paid for by UP. The results of the study aren’t due back until November.
“The entire facility resides within an already overcrowded school zone,” said John Burns. “We need to look at ways to decrease traffic volume. This will increase the risk for our children.”
Another common gripe among the residents was the lack of consultation with community members on the idea.
“We don’t oppose helping the high school. We oppose the location,” said Royal Furgeson. “I think a community survey is essential.”
Some questioned the proposal from a legal perspective, saying it potentially violated city’s charter and zoning laws, and would open up both the city and school district to potential litigation, not to mention distrust of public officials.
“It’s created rampant speculation and alarm in the community,” said Ann Burns.
Bill Skelton, who serves on the city’s park advisory committee, spoke in support of the proposal.
“If we decide to go forward with the natatorium, hopefully we can have a safe place for the kids to swim,” he said. “I don’t think the problems are insurmountable, and certainly think it’s worth pursuing.”
Other speakers rattled off potential alternatives, such as a partnership with other pools in the area that could accommodate practices and meets for the Scots.
“I think there are other options that need to be looked at,” said Liz Helton, who suggested an on-campus location that reflected the team’s success over the past 13 years at the UIL state meet. “I think they deserve facilities comparable to those sports that do not win state championships.”