After the Sprint, Comes the Marathon for Dallas ISD

Two weeks after a tornado severely damaged three Dallas ISD campuses, district officials gave a surprising update: They’re already drawing up plans for structures to replace them.

Chief of school leadership Stephanie Elizalde updated on how students at the three most damaged schools – Walnut Hill Elementary, Cary Middle School, and Thomas Jefferson High School –
were settling in to new situations.

The deputy superintendent of operations Scott Layne got down to what it will cost to make repairs and, in some cases, rebuild.

“What Chief Elizalde just presented is what I would call the sprint because we had to get the kids back, and everything moves so fast,” Layne told the board. “The next part is the building recovery, and that’s more of a marathon, that’s going to take some time.”

The good news? The school district is insured up to $500 million, Layne said, with a deductible of $2 million.

“There are other entities that may help offset the deductible,” superintendent Michael Hinojosa added.

Structural engineers have been assessing to see what – if anything – is salvageable.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has toured damaged sites, so there is also potential for federal dollars.

“The next part is the building recovery, and that’s more of a marathon, that’s going to take some time.” -Scott Layne

The board approved a measure to give district officials the purchasing authority to immediately make decisions on several repair and maintenance issues created by the tornado, including buying heating and cooling units for Cigarroa Elementary and replacing damaged roof sections and floors at Burnet and Cigarroa elementary schools.

The district estimates that it has already spent about $1 million just on clearing debris, tarping damaged roofs, setting up alternate school locations, and bussing students to new campuses.

“I don’t think it’s too early to begin thinking about what we would like to do in the future to rebuild these three campuses,” Layne said.

Since the district already had an architect working on the pre-storm Thomas Jefferson High renovation, he asked for renderings for concepts for that school. Additional teams of architects were deployed for concepts for Walnut Hill and Cary.

“There are options here for a 6-12 campus, or even a K-12 campus with complete separation of the elementary school, which would allow us to possibly utilize the Walnut Hill site for some other type of program,” Layne said. “Possibly a career-tech center could go there.”

The options intrigued trustees.

“I love the fact that you’re already thinking about how to re-do T.J.,” said trustee Dustin Marshall.

“There’s an incredible principal there that has done great work over the past several years and has turned that school into a shining example of what we can do with our students,” Marshall said, adding that the school building should reflect that.

“The facade of T.J. has not been impressive for a long time. And in an environment where you’re surrounded by ESD, Hockaday, St. Marks, and Greenhill, curb appeal matters,” he said.

Edwin Flores, whose district includes all three schools, was excited, too.

“Think big, think long term of what this facility could look like,” he said.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected]

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