With the clock ticking on the desire of Highland Park ISD to hold a bond election this spring, several key questions still remain.
On Thursday, HPISD trustees thanked the district’s facilities advisory committee for their efforts but stopped short of endorsing the committee’s massive proposal to relieve overcrowding, pending further discussion about costs and logistics.
The volunteer committee formally presented its ambitious proposal that would cost taxpayers between $236 million and $290 million, and would include building a fifth elementary school, tearing down and replacing Bradfield and University Park elementary schools, and significantly renovating the other four campuses while building at least two underground parking garages.
Last year, the board proposed a less costly remodel of the elementary schools within the framework of the original buildings. But committee members said they want to encourage a more long-term solution for the aging buildings that are bursting at the seams because of enrollment growth that’s forecasted to continue — perhaps approaching 10,000 students in HPISD within the next 15-20 years.
“We have a shortage in space at every campus,” said committee co-chairman Gage Prichard. “Our district deserves better, less-crowded facilities. Let’s step out and reach further and try to solve the problem.”
Of course, HPISD is still paying off bonds from a $75.4 million bond referendum in 2008 that upgraded facilities at each campus.
All schools in the district, with the exception of Highland Park Middle School, were constructed prior to 1952 and have been renovated at least seven times since then. HPMS was built in 1993 and been expanded twice. Six of the seven campuses are operating at or above their capacity (the exception is Armstrong Elementary).
“It’s bolder than anything we’ve ever done,” said trustee Joe Taylor. “It is a significantly large tax increase. There’s a political dynamic that comes into play. We have to see what the broader community thinks of a plan like this. I don’t think it’s an all-or-nothing situation.”
While Taylor favored taking more time to discuss and prioritize the issues, particularly in terms of financial impact, board president Leslie Melson is optimistic that HPISD can still hold an election in May with an aggressive public-relations campaign.
HPISD is facing a Feb. 27 deadline to call a May bond election. The board will meet again on Jan. 20, and perhaps call a special meeting later that week, then will set up a series of public forums in early February to gather community input.
“We need to keep focusing on a May election. Our kids are waiting for us to build for them, but I want to make sure we’re responsible,” Melson said. “I feel like we can do collaborative work to pull this together. I’m encouraged. This is not something our community can’t handle.”
Here are three of the biggest questions still facing district administrators as they try to finalize a bond proposal:
- How much will all this cost?
The FAC proposal gives a wide range of between $236 million and $290 million, which will need to be fine-tuned as specific items are added, dropped, or tweaked. A bond initiative of that size would likely cost taxpayers more than an extra $1,000 per year for each $1 million in property value. That figure doesn’t include any land acquisition costs related to the expected purchase of property from Northway Christian Church for the new elementary campus.
- Where is everyone going to park?
One task for the FAC was to study parking and queuing improvements at each campus. That’s most difficult at the high school, where the committee is proposing to eliminate an existing teacher parking lot for more classroom space. The FAC recommends adding an 800-space sub-grade garage, but it’s unclear where that would go — underneath the softball field, next to the existing above-ground garage has been mentioned — or how much it would cost.
- What about the natatorium?
This relatively small piece to the bond issue has already generated plenty of publicity. The district seems set on eliminating its existing pool at HPHS in favor of additional classrooms and labs, but finding an alternative has been difficult. The district is still waiting for University Park to decide whether it wants to partner on a natatorium, an idea that has met with significant community resistance with regard to a proposed site in Curtis Park. No other solutions have been presented yet.