As May approaches, Highland Park ISD officials are eyeing a return to the Texas State Board of Review for a decision on whether Hyer Elementary School will receive a historic designation.
The school’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places is “concerning” to Superintendent Tom Trigg and HPISD board members, who worry that a possible designation could delay demolition and construction of the school.
(ABOVE: Hyer Elementary School opened in 1949. Its architect, Mark Lemmon, also designed Highland Park Presbyterian and Highland Park United Methodist churches. Preservation Dallas put the school on the 2018 Most Endangered Historic Places list. Photo: Tim Glaze)
Having a building named to the National Register does not preclude it from facing demolition, but it is a prerequisite to being considered a State Antiquities Landmark, “which could keep it from being demolished against the wishes of our community, which voted for new schools more than three years ago,” Trigg told board members earlier this year.
“We officially opposed the nomination,” he said. “If we are forced to do anything different than what we have planned for Hyer, it would cause a delay for us, and most likely a lot of money.”
Highland Park resident David Gravelle, a member of the Texas Historical Commission, helped set the wheels in motion for Hyer’s nomination with a proposal he and others drafted.
“I didn’t even do that [in my capacity] as a member of the commission — I set about doing that as a citizen,” he said. “I am and always have been a huge proponent of historical preservation.”
“If we are forced to do anything different than what we have planned for Hyer, it would cause a delay for us, and most likely a lot of money.” -Tom Trigg
Gravelle said any nomination for historical preservation must go through a process: Starting at the individual level, a proposal is made to the THC; if the commission approves, the proposal moves on to the State Review Board; the board then decides if it is worthy of passing on to the National Registry for consideration.
“It’s quite a long process, with a lot of different steps,” Gravelle said.
Register requirements say buildings, sites, objects, structures, and districts are eligible if they are at least 50 years old – with rare exceptions – and meet established criteria.
Houses, schools, hotels, theaters, barns, bridges, and lighthouses more than 50 years old are also sought after by the Register. Another factor in determining eligibility is whether the building is in recognizably the same form as when it was built.
Even if Hyer is so recognized, district leaders remain optimistic demolition could proceed this summer, and a new school could be built in time to open for the fall of 2020.
“We’re confident, despite the efforts to place the school on the National Register,” Hitzelberger said.
“The design for the building incorporates historical elements of the original Hyer, complements the surrounding neighborhood, and accurately reflects the character and history of HPISD.”
“Legacy” committees, as well as faculty, PTA members, students, and former teachers worked to make sure architects embraced the unique elements of Hyer and preserved familiar features in the design for the new building.
The Hyer Legacy committee’s wish-list of saved elements include the building’s red brick and white trim, the courtyard, and the engraved bricks.
Trigg and Jim Hitzelberger, board president, are scheduled to meet with their attorneys before the May decision by the Commission.
Hitzelberger added that the amended site plan has already been “unanimously approved” by the University Park City Council.
“The community has been very supportive of the design,” he said.
Of the district were to redraw building plans, that would be expensive, Trigg said.
“We have a lot of architectural dollars tied up there,” he said. “Worse case, we might have needed to – or need to – open the school a year later.”