The future Career Institute North at Walnut Hill. Graphic courtesy of WRA Architects.
Dallas ISD is optimistic about the new Career Institute North campus, but some neighbors who live near the site are more doubtful.
The current campus, which opened in 2019, is located in a 70,000-square-foot facility on Midway Road in Farmers Branch. It serves students in five high schools in North Dallas: Conrad, Hillcrest, North Dallas, Thomas Jefferson and W.T. White high schools.
The school hosts 500 9th- and 10th-graders, but senior administrator Jean Laswell said the demand will outgrow the school’s capacity within two years.
The new facility will serve 3,200 students, but only 800 will be on campus at any given time, due to the four periods when students’ classes are scheduled.
The new 165,000-square-foot campus will be built at the now-destroyed Walnut Hill Elementary. The district applied for a zoning change in December.
“The purpose of the career institutes is to provide Dallas students with the opportunity to learn about a career field of their interest and earn industry-recognized certifications that will lead to the post-secondary programs in the field and/or lead to employment in high-demand, high-wage jobs right out of high school,” Laswell said.
At a virtual information meeting hosted by the district on Jan. 20, members of the community expressed concerns about what effect the campus would have on the neighborhood.
“This is a dramatic change to our neighborhood,” neighbor Charles Kallassy wrote in the chat during the meeting.
Some attendees worried about the additional students who would be coming in and out of the neighborhood each day.
“Neighbors who purchased their home when Walnut Hill was an elementary did not plan on their small elementary turning into a massive high school…please understand many of us are neighbors and experienced the tornado and are well aware of the challenges it brought our way,” wrote neighbor Marla Hartsell.
In response, district officials mentioned the size of the campus is about 40,000 square feet larger than the pre-K-eighth-grade facility — which will be about 126,000 square feet — that is being built to replace Cary Middle School. It’s not as big as Thomas Jefferson High School, which will be more than 320,000 square feet when renovations are complete.
Several of the neighbors asked about truancy prevention, claiming students at Jefferson had skipped school.
Laswell responded to these concerns by saying that the students at Career Institute North would not miss school because they wanted to be there. She also said there are procedures in place and plenty of supervision to make sure students are entering and exiting at specific locations and times.
“This will be a welcome, good neighbor for you,” Laswell said to the meeting attendees.
In addition, Laswell said all students are transported to and from campus by bus, so they won’t have access to cars.
Neighbors also questioned whether the district had any alternative plans for the campus. Officials said the plan to relocate Career Institute North at Walnut Hill will continue.
Seth Stevens, a representative of WRA Architects, said the design is set to be completed this spring, so demolition and construction can begin. The $56 million project is expected to be finished spring 2023.
The whole building will undergo renovations, including structural repairs and new roofing and windows. In addition, builders will construct a three-story wing, a two-story storm shelter and a one-story addition on the northwest side of the campus.
When it’s finished, students will have state-of-the-art facilities to pursue a pathway: aviation; automotive; EMT/fire fighting; special needs (culinary, robotics, maintenance); healthcare/dental assisting; mechatronics; cybersecurity and software development; construction, carpentry and welding; plumbing; electrical; HVAC; or architecture/interior design.
“It’s something that I think is an incredible opportunity for them,” said Jeremy Taylor, who teaches electrical technology at Career Institute North. “And that as we’ve touched on also is not just to funnel them necessarily into the industry or into the field, the trade, but to open up their eyes to different options, through resources, through information and knowledge and wisdom that we can give them.”