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Plan commission recommends rezoning for Jubilee Park school


By Roy Appleton

Staff Writer Dallas Morning News

December 3, 2011

The Dallas school district’s divisive plan for a new O.M. Roberts Elementary School has moved closer to city approval.

In an 8-4 vote, the City Plan Commission backed the rezoning Thursday of six acres for the school in the Jubilee Park neighborhood near Fair Park. The matter is expected to go to the City Council next month for a final decision.

The decision delighted teachers, staff, students and parents who crowded the council chambers bearing signs and wearing purple school T-shirts. Several urged commissioners to support the district’s request for rebuilding a larger O.M. Roberts where its predecessor stood for 102 years. The school, near Grand and Barry avenues, was demolished last summer, and its students have been attending Mata Elementary.

“Please give us our neighborhood school back,” said Ovidia Amaya.

Other Jubilee Park residents, saying they support the school, asked commissioners to reject the district’s plan because it includes a parking lot and fields for geothermal wells near homes across the street from the school. The parking lot and well fields would be an unsettling intrusion into the neighborhood, taking land where families have lived and could still live, they said.

“We don’t oppose the school, but leave us intact as a community,” Shawn Busari said Friday.

The district bought 12 houses and a vacant lot for the parking and wells, which would heat and cool the school. The purchases have left seven houses, all occupied, scattered about the block framed by Barry, Gurley, Fitzhugh and Philip avenues.

The Plan Commission’s recommendation to the City Council calls for the school district to erect privacy barriers bordering those homes.

Busari and Norma Hernandez question the need for the satellite parking lot, contending the district could have put the required number of spaces on the school campus.

The DISD plan has 18 of the school’s required 59 parking spaces on campus, with the remainder in the 94-space lot across the street. David Cossum, city assistant director of planning, said the district might be able to meet its parking requirement without the satellite lot, but that probably would mean building recreation areas in its place.

“Both DISD and city staff prefer teachers walking across the street two times daily vs. children throughout the day,” he said.

Busari, Hernandez and others wonder why the geothermal wells wouldn’t be dug on the campus, too, under buildings if necessary. Plan commissioners raised the same question, but a DISD consultant said that would make repairs more difficult.

The school district has included O.M. Roberts among 11 schools it proposes to close during the next two years to save almost $11.5 million. District officials also have said they intend to build a Roberts replacement — one that would increase the capacity from 500 students to 850 — with bond funds approved in 2008. An opening is targeted for 2013.

“We’ll see where everything goes with this discussion of school consolidations,” said district spokesman Jon Dahlander. “That may change things, but at this point our plans are still a go to build the new school.”

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