In the months since a tornado wiped out most of the historic Walnut Hill Elementary school, what remains of the building has sat under tarps and plywood, waiting for new life. Now, the City Council has given the Dallas Independent School District the green light to begin the process that will bring students back to the site where kids have been attending classes since 1948.
However, the students and structure will look very different from what the neighborhood is used to.
When the city sent out the initial notifications to Walnut Hill residents living within 500 feet of the proposed new structure, only four of the 66 neighbors favored the changes. Because of the overwhelming concern from the neighborhood, the new zoning ordinance was required to receive approval from three-quarters of the City Council, which it did at the Sept. 9 meeting.
Neighbors are not opposed to another school opening up in the lot at the corner of Killion Drive and Midway Road; there has been one there for decades. Instead, the concern stems from the much larger footprint of the new building, which will be a career institute for 9-12 grades and is expected to have a student body of over 6,000 by 2022.
“The neighbors of this school are being asked to go from a sweet little elementary to a new building that, even though it is preserving the Spanish facade of the old school, will have a bigger footprint,” said Councilmember Gay Donnell-Willis, who represents the area in question.
The proposed school, which will serve as the North Campus of the city’s four new technical schools, will consist of the remaining Walnut Hill structure and a significant addition. Upon completion, the school will offer vocational training in aviation flight mechatronics, cybersecurity, construction and carpentry, electrical and solar, HVAC/R technology, interior design, plumbing, and pipefitting. In addition, classes in automotive technology, culinary arts, health science, and welding are expected to be added by the end of 2022.
Despite receiving numerous calls, letters, and emails from concerned neighbors over the past months, Donnell-Willis ultimately decided to vote in favor of the zoning changes.
“We know that one way to keep neighborhoods safe tomorrow is to drive education and workforce development, so our students stay engaged and on the right pathway,” she said.