Highland Park ISD won’t have a bond election this spring.
District trustees reached consensus during a work session last week to hold off on sending a massive bond package to voters because of questions about the cost and scope of potential improvement projects.
November is now the target for a bond initiative that could exceed $200 million, and will focus on relieving congestion for a growing student population that already has each HPISD campus bursting at the seams.
The board spent last week dissecting the details of an ambitious proposal by its facilities advisory committee that includes building a fifth elementary school on land the district plans to purchase from Northway Christian Church.
That proposal also recommended that HPISD tear down and rebuild Bradfield and University Park elementary schools, and proposed several elaborate solutions to parking issues at each campus.
Several of those recommendations strayed from a framework that trustees drafted early last year, and pushed the potential price tag for bonds to as much as $300 million. Committee members said they wanted to look at a long-term solution to growth issues that are forecasted to continue.
“Rebuilding now will save taxpayers money in the long run,” said Lee Wagner, chairman of the FAC elementary subcommittee. “Right now we have the option to rebuild schools without having to acquire land.”
However, trustee Joe Taylor was among those who urged the district to step back and examine the cost of the bond issue relative to incremental educational benefits, and then prioritize projects accordingly.
“We have a fiduciary responsibility,” Taylor said. “People move to our district for the educational attributes, not the buildings.”
Of course, HPISD is still paying off bonds from a $75.4 million bond referendum in 2008 that upgraded facilities at each campus.
Although the extra six months will delay the schedule of new renovation projects, trustees argue that the extra time is needed to educate voters and make sure that costs are in line with needs, and to answer questions about critical pieces of the puzzle.
One of those is the relocation of the natatorium at the high school, which is proposed to be demolished in favor of extra classroom space. Last week, University Park rejected a proposed partnership with HPISD to build a joint natatorium in Curtis Park. While the city didn’t rule out partnering on another site, land availability is scarce.
HPISD superintendent Dawson Orr suggested the current location of the Seay Tennis Center might be a fit for a new natatorium, since the tennis center likely would be relocated to land behind the campus parking garage. However, that would consume space the committee earmarked for a new structure to house athletics offices and other functions.
There also are a slew of dilemmas about the lack of parking, and whether underground garages should be added to alleviate those problems at certain schools. The plan now is to study and fine-tune some of these issues in the coming months.