With Walnut Hill Design Talk, ‘No Perspective Is Wrong’

Editor’s note: This story depicts a design charrette that happened on March 4, prior to a statewide school closure and county-wide shelter-in-place order due to COVID-19.

To first build a new school, you need a good supply of sticker dots.

Parents and community members used multicolored dots at a design charrette to indicate likes and dislikes on renderings mounted on a conference room wall at Dallas ISD’s headquarters. It was a first step in designing a new pre-K through eighth- grade campus that will re-place the tornado-damaged Walnut Hill Elementary and Cary Middle schools.

Not far away, more worked with representatives from the architectural firm VAI Architects, who had been hired in January to work on the new campus along with potential traffic patterns and opportunities to address even aesthetics.

At another table, parents manipulated foam core blocks in place to change the shape and layout of the new school.

“But ultimately, we do need to coalesce around what we’re doing, and please keep in mind that at the end of the day, it is about the experience that we provide our students.” -Stephanie Elizalde

All of that creates input for the design team to factor in when creating what will eventually be a campus that is home to teenagers and preschoolers – and the grades in between.

“This is one of those opportunities where we get to do some storming, a little forming, until we get to the norming,” Dallas ISD chief of school leadership Stephanie Elizalde told the group. “We’re asking you all to come up with a lot, and those are tall orders.”

In January, the Dallas ISD board of trustees approved a plan to build the campus, and
in the months that followed, several public meetings were held to gather feedback and ideas, and a website was created to gather more input.

Those ideas, in turn, allowed the architects to create dozens of concept drawings for the first charrette, a “hands-on opportunity,” as Elizalde put it.

“We always want to start off with, ‘What’s the best that we can provide our students?’ and then from there, we have to know what parameters exist,” she said.

For some, the focus was on what view they would see as neighbors, once the school was completed. One parent was interested in creating more visual impact along what was currently a long, blank wall.

No opinion was “wrong,” Elizalde told the group.

“Everyone here has a different perspective,” she said. “And no perspective is wrong – it’s just a different perspective.

“But ultimately, we do need to coalesce around what we’re doing, and please keep in mind that at the end of the day, it is about the experience that we provide our students.”

The district hopes to have both the new Walnut Hill pre-K through eighth-grade international languages school and the Thomas Jefferson High School renovation done by fall 2022.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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