Cary Elementary School was damaged after the October tornadoes. (Photo by Bret Redman)

Local News

Let’s Check in on How North Dallas Feels About the Renovation of Tornado-Damaged Thomas Jefferson High

The board chose the least expensive option: renovation instead of a complete rebuild.

Last week, the Dallas ISD board of trustees voted to renovate the tornado-damaged Thomas Jefferson High rather than building a new school. It’s been the talk of North Dallas: in a bond that could be as much as $3.7 billion, the trustees chose the cheaper route—a $65 million difference—and will renovate the school.

Earlier this week, Dallas ISD Trustee Edwin Flores and Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates were on hand at the Episcopal School of Dallas to answer questions. Walnut Hill Elementary, which was also damaged in the tornados, had to relocate to the shuttered Tom Field Elementary. Parents are not happy with that.

Here’s a dispatch from our sister publication, People Newspapers:

Several parents voiced concerns about Tom Field Elementary, including Walnut Hill parent Florence Durant, who said that while she was grateful to the district for the work it did after the tornado, Field’s location was troublesome.

“It is in an industrial area, about five miles to the west of us,” she said. “Junk auto parts spill over into the playground space through a broken chain link fence along the abutting used car lot.”

A nearby construction yard, she added, shares a barbed wire-topped fence with the school, and the school has repeatedly contacted the city regarding industrial smells in the area.

And everything, she said, is too small – the library, the auditorium, and the classrooms.

The Thomas Jefferson kids are attending school at the also-shuttered Thomas Edison, located 10 miles away in West Dallas on Singleton Boulevard. Its neighbor is a concrete plant.

The Dallas Morning Newsed board torched the vote, calling it “terribly misguided,” “short-sighted,” and marks “a missed opportunity for at least half a century.”

Many of the voters who have supported the district’s bond requests over the years live in and around TJ. And they have been clear they wanted the district to scrape the site and start over. Those voters, who pay substantial property taxes to DISD, might wonder what they are getting from the school district’s leadership in return for their support.

Architects had brought forth an image for Thomas Jefferson that would’ve transformed it into a preK-12th grade campus on the land where TJ and Cary currently are. Trustee Joyce Foreman said it was unfair to spend so much money on a school in North Dallas when South Oak Cliff High School only got $52 million for its renovation, which the ed board called a “false equivalency.” But it seemed it was Superintendent Michael Hinojosa’s concern that lingered: he wants kids back in that school as quick as possible, and the complete rebuild would’ve taken more time than the renovation. As it stands, most of the existing buildings will remain. The cafeteria, weight room, dance studio, culinary arts, and ROTC buildings will need to be rebuilt.

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