This is a love story about how two neighborhood teens grew up to use their design skills to make a difference in the world. 

After attending Walnut Hill Elementary and Cary Middle School, Jay Brotman arrived at Thomas Jefferson High School, but he had his sights set on Lynn Heydemann, a student at Hillcrest High School. They graduated in 1974.

Flash forward: The two married, matriculated from the University of Texas and now work in Connecticut for Svigals + Partners. He’s an architect, and she’s an interior designer. Together they redesigned Sandy Hook Elementary after the shootings there in 2012. When the Oct. 20 tornado destroyed TJ, Jay contacted Dallas ISD and offered to apply principles learned at Sandy Hook to his alma mater. He got some media attention for it, but not much response from DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa.

“Lynn and I thought we might have something to offer that could help the community,” he says. 

After the Sandy Hook shootings, the Brotmans created workshops to ask what the school and neighborhood should be about. They met with firefighters, teachers, students, parents, business owners and sports enthusiasts. Neighbors brought photos of their childhood for inspiration.

“In addition to educating students, schools are a gathering place,” Lynn says.

Throughout the process, the two said no one got everything they wanted, but neighbors understood why. For example, community members lobbied for a school with strong, high walls and few windows. 

“It would have been more of a fortress than a school,” Jay says.  “We saw our job to bring everybody along to understand what is best for children to learn. We could figure out the security.”

Jay grew up riding his bike to school in Preston Hollow, stopping to have breakfast with his friends on Midway. His three sisters attended Walnut Hill, and his mom taught math there. Even though he lives in Connecticut, he recently designed a contemporary home for his sister in Preston Hollow.

Of all the buildings destroyed by the tornado, Jay is most nostalgic about Walnut Hill Elementary. 

“The style was warm and wonderful with high ceilings, old woodwork in the hallways and wood doors with the transom openings above them for ventilation,” he says.

Jay’s memories include the people in the school. He reminisces about the cafeteria ladies, the moms in the parents’ association and his dad playing drums in the jazz band. 

“You can’t go back to that time,” he says. “We understand, but there are aspects that you might be able to restore today. We’re building something now for our children and grandchildren.”