Richardson ISD closed on the property at White Rock Trail and Walnut Hill Tuesday in their pursuit of options to alleviate school overcrowding in Lake Highlands, but no one is certain when – or if – a school will actually be built on the tract. For now, the buildings will sit as a kind of insurance policy – something to have, and perhaps, to hold, until district officials and the reflector committee come to consensus about how to proceed.
It wouldn’t be the first time RISD purchased and held onto property.
In 2001, RISD bought a tract between Greenville and Abrams north of Walnut to provide for future growth. A new RISD Operations Center is currently under construction there, 15 years later.
Though the White Rock Trail tract’s price tag of $4.5 million is hardly chump-change, most agree that other suitable land in LH would cost more. Within the $437 million bond package, approximately $41 million has been set aside for a solution to enrollment growth in LH, and district officials have used a working projection of $23-25 million to build an elementary school. The district has evaluated 12 different sites, including a tract at the LH Town Center, and none of them were without issues.
Though RISD’s plan for the White Rock Trail property involves removal of the office buildings, a citizen’s group called Lake Highlands Schools Plan 2030 believes “the district may have stumbled in” to a good temporary use for the property.
First, LH 2030 thinks the White Rock Trail/Walnut Hill site is “not a good location for a school,” at least not permanently, for a host of reasons, including (a) costly construction due to steep slope, (b) high traffic, (c) likely opposition to a city zoning change by neighbors, (d) small site/small school, (e) loss of property tax revenue, (f) redrawing of school boundaries and (g) safety concerns due to students crossing Walnut Hill and walking along White Rock Trail.
On the other hand, the buildings could be a temporary fix.
LH 2030 has proposed a “5/6 + 7/8 plan,” which involves alleviating crowded elementaries by pulling 5th and 6th graders into a separate school on the 7/8 LHJH campus. While a 5/6 school is under construction, they say, students could use the office buildings “with little modification.” You can access their detailed plan on their Facebook page here. (Their name, says member George Chandler, comes from their desire “to develop a total K-12 plan looking outwards through the year 2030.”)
A 5/6 plan is currently under consideration, along with construction of a K-6 campus and other options, by the RISD reflector committee. The group continues meeting weekly, says RISD finance guru Tony Harkleroad, and “is committed to working as long as necessary until a decision is reached.”
“They are discussing options and looking at data,” he says, “and taking their task very seriously. They’ve learned there are no easy answers.”
You can follow the committee’s work on the RISD.org page here. The committee will report their findings to RISD trustees, who will then make a final decision. An RISD public meeting to discuss the RISD bond will be held tonight/Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the LHHS library.
Oh, and disagreement about what to do with recently acquired property on White Rock Trail is nothing new. Check out this 20-year-old article about RISD’s purchase of 9300 WRT, later sold by RISD. Some things never change, it seems.
Update: The reflector committee declared Tuesday night’s meeting their last and focused on two “core options,” according to a social media post by member Richard Duge: “building two 5th/6th centers or building new K-6 school(s). A vote was taken and it was pretty divided with 21 votes in favor of the 5th/6th centers and 18 votes for a K-6 school.” Duge suggested contacting Councilman Adam McGough to share your support or opposition to building a school on White Rock Trail, since rezoning is likely to require council approval. McGough’s email is Adam.McGough@dallascityhall.com.