A bagpiper and a panther mascot stood at the doors of 8385 Durham St. on the first morning of classes to welcome in the new 110,000-square-foot building’s temporary tenants — University Park Elementary students — for the 2017–18 school year.
The campus is the first new elementary school to open in more than 60 years in the Highland Park Independent School District.
The original UP Elementary campus, built in 1928, was torn down in June and will be rebuilt for the 2018–19 school year. With 700 students and 80 staff members, there simply wasn’t room for growth in the old setup, district leaders said.
Students and parents navigated the unlived-in halls, taking in the state-of-the-art features that appeared around every corner: an abundance of natural lighting, outdoor learning spaces, a produce garden, roll-down projectors, extra-secure entrances, and walls you can write on.
“It’s got that new car smell,” said Robbie Corder, a UP Elementary parent and the University Park city manager.
Superintendent Tom Trigg said, “The most exciting thing is watching the kids’ eyes light up for the first day.”
Not everyone is blown away with the new facility, however. UP parent Virginie Meyers is concerned with the traffic outside the school.
“The old UP had four crossing guards within a block of the school, and this new school has one — one intersection with which to safely cross the intensely congested traffic. We have effective crossing guards posted at unused intersections and kids dodging cars to get home.”
HPISD communications director Jon Dahlander said the district’s police department worked with the cities of Dallas and University Park and Dallas County Schools to develop a traffic management plan to ensure student safety.
“The safety of HPISD students has been and will always be our top priority,” he said. “In addition to a dedicated drive aisle in front of the school for parents to safely drop off and pick up students, we have a total of seven crossing guards (two of which we share with other schools) to help our students arrive and leave safely from the new school. We encourage our students to take routes that have crossing guards, and will continue to monitor and make adjustments to crossing guard placement around the school.”
After spending previous years wheeling a cart from room to room, Spanish teacher Charlotte Lawton was all smiles as she showed off her new 800-square-foot classroom. Coming from her “humble beginnings” in a mobile classroom, she said she is over-the-moon about the upgrades.
While the place isn’t too shabby for a temporary home, the Panthers are eager to settle into somewhere permanent.
“We’re excited about the idea of having something brand-new with world-class facilities,” Corder said.
UP students will return next fall to a new campus at the original Amherst Avenue location.