Dallas ISD trustee Dan Micciche began Wednesday night’s meeting with a statement, clearly intended to calm concerned homeowners and business owners.
“I have asked and recommended to the superintendent that we take this proposed site on Skillman Avenue off the table and go back and look at other alternatives.”
The assembled group erupted in applause.
Micciche was referring to DISD’s plans, proclaimed by certified letter to property owners and tenants at the corner of Skillman Avenue and Walling Lane, to “acquire” their property by eminent domain. The businesses, some of which have been active more than 45 years at the location, include Jake’s Hamburgers, City View Antique Mall, Merriman Park Automotive, Chevron, Security Self Storage and others.
“One of the reasons we are having the meeting here is that Jill Stone Elementary is inadequate,” continued Micciche. “The hallways are actually outside, and kids moving between classrooms or going to the restrooms on rainy days are walking outside. At Hotchkiss, we have more than 20 portables and we have buses running through a quiet neighborhood. Both schools need relief. Vickery Meadow is a densely populated area and there are not a lot of alternatives. We have given our administration an impossible task to try to find a solution to this problem, to find a property that will work.”
With the need for a new school established, it was time for a DISD mea culpa.
“I would like to offer an apology,” said Scott Layne, DISD Chief Operating Officer and signer of the letter. “On behalf of the district, I don’t think we did a good job in dealing with this issue. Anytime you try to buy land it’s a sensitive issue to the individuals who own that land and we try to keep it confidential. We didn’t do a good job communicating. Trustee Micciche is going to recommend that we not use that site. Now we have an opportunity to hear from folks.”
The DISD bond, passed in 2015, provided for 9 new schools, including a replacement campus for Jill Stone Elementary. Relief for overcrowded Hotchkiss was part of the plan.
“We want our kids inside buildings, not in portables,” explained Layne. “But, it’s very difficult to find land in this area. One of our goals was to find land that didn’t impact residential property. We didn’t want people to have to leave their homes. This was the best site that met that criteria. I met with realtors today. They are going to start looking at some alternatives for us. This is being put on hold. I’d love to hear any alternatives you have to pick a better location.”
The new school will serve students Kindergarten through 5th grade, occupy 90-100,000 square feet on 7-10 acres and house 750-800 students. Layne invited attendees to send suggestions to him via email, email@example.com.
Orlando Almeda, DISD’s Director of Real Estate, shared that multiple sites were examined before DISD focused on the assemblage of properties on Skillman, including the former Steakley Chevrolet, Top Golf/Equestrian Center, Home Depot, apartment complexes and other sites. Steakley is currently being developed, Top Golf and Home Depot are going concerns and would be costly, and apartments “would displace the very kids we are looking to serve,” he said.
Despite DISD’s apology, business owners at the meeting vented frustration at the heavy-handed nature of the letter they received.
“The letter needs to better written in the future so that it doesn’t suggest that eminent domain has been authorized,” conceded Micciche, who said DISD board members had okayed no such thing.
“Part of the problem is we don’t trust the process,” stressed Beatrice Martinez. “It’s not working, and we’re putting it on you. You need to communicate better.”
“I want you to compare what we’re doing to what we saw over in Richardson,” said Micciche, an apparent reference to the RISD purchase of land at Walnut Hill and White Rock Trail for use as an elementary school. “In a couple of days we’ve tried to make sure that all of the community’s good was taken into account. We’ve tried to let the administration know that we’re not happy with the way things went. They’ve apologized for a number of errors, they are going back to the drawing board, and they’re going to look for other alternatives. If it happens, it will be, basically, over my dead body.
“The response that we’ve had is, I think, has been what the community has asked for, which is please take this off the table. We’re going to get this right. We have problems in both schools. We have needs in both schools. I think we’re going to get to the right spot.”