When the members of the Facilities Advisory Committee first stepped into a room together more than 18 months ago, they didn’t set out to transform Highland Park ISD.
In a community that values tradition, the 21 civic leaders and school volunteers were tasked with shaping another bond proposal — one that likely would be similar to previous efforts, every eight years or so, to update HPISD facilities with a modest cost to keep up with technology and building improvements.
That didn’t happen. The committee instead wound up with the most ambitious bond package in the district’s history, by far, at $361.4 million. Then the members — who have lived in the Park Cities for an average of 35 years each — sold the idea to the community, which passed the referendum by a narrow margin in November.
Those who comprised the HPISD Facilities Advisory Committee during the past two years came from all walks of life but found a common goal. They include:
* — co-chairs
“It ended up being a bigger and bolder vision than maybe any of us anticipated or what people in the community anticipated,” said Blythe Koch, a committee member and mother of students at Hyer Elementary School.
The bottom line is that most everybody, even those who didn’t support the bond initiative, appreciated the incredible time and effort that it required for the committee to set aside their daily lives for several months and craft their vision. It’s that passion, regardless of the outcome, that deserves a salute as the Park Cities People citizens of the year.
“It far exceeded anything that we could have imagined, but it was worth it,” said committee member Maryjane Bonfield. “There was an incentive because we felt so strongly about having a long-term impact.”
The needs were based on unprecedented enrollment growth within the district’s boundaries, and the solutions were audacious — build a fifth elementary school while tearing down and rebuilding three others that dated back more than 60 years. Toss in some extensive renovations to the middle-school and high-school campuses.
“Everyone in this community cares about the schools. We were very united from the beginning in realizing that we wanted to have a long-term approach and be strategic in our planning,” Koch said. “We studied a lot of different options. We wanted to see that come to fruition.”
A number of factors led to the big-picture mentality, from low interest rates to demographic projections to the rare availability of sufficient land for a new school through discussions with Northway Christian Church.
“That changed the whole picture,” said FAC co-chairman Gage Prichard. “What a blessing to the community. Had the church not stepped up, we might not have been able to do it.”
Prichard praised the work ethic and conviction of the committee members, knowing that their conclusions might not be popular.
“Everybody on the committee has been here since this growth took off in the early 1990s and watched it,” Koch said. “We didn’t want to be back in this room in 10 years or less and be full again. That would have been a failure to us.”
It took six months longer than expected (HPISD postponed its original plans for a May bond election), but the committee managed to get trustees to embrace their concept, and a majority of voters, as well.
Now that their work is finished, the FAC volunteers can anticipate the gradual new look of HPISD over the next decade, knowing that they played a major role.
“It’s a transformative point in our district. We decided to invest in the generations to come, and it’s exciting,” Bonfield said. “It’s humbling that we got to be a part of it.”