Editor's note: This story also appears in the Nov. 8 edition of Park Cities People.
Despite some neighbors’ objections, a shaded concrete pad will be added behind University Park Elementary School.
The University Park City Council on Tuesday approved the installation of a 20-foot-by-40-foot piece of concrete due west of the campus’s new sports court. The concrete will be shaded by a green awning attached to 10-foot poles.
Opponents of the “fabric shade structure,” as it was called in city documents, said it will make the elementary school look more like a used car lot or a flea market. Consequently, they are worried about how it will affect the value of their homes.
“Trees are a better long-term solution to providing shade for the school children and sports spectators than the proposed concrete pad and shade structure,” Stanford Avenue homeowner Ed DeLoach said. “Trees look better and are more environmentally friendly.”
But principal Lynda Carter said the structure is needed on her crowded campus. University Park Elementary serves more than 700 students and may house 800 in the near future, Superintendent Dawson Orr said.
“The teachers had ex-pressed a need for some outdoor instructional surfaces as well that were covered and protected from the sun,” Carter said.
Carter and her staff tugged at the council’s heartstrings on Tuesday. Nurse Jenny Castellaw said a shaded area will allow her “medically fragile” students to interact with their peers outdoors. And second-grade teacher Kellison Golden brought up the dangers of skin cancer before revealing — after a 30-second pause — that she has been battling Stage 4 melanoma.
“Those with fair skin only need to be in the sun for 10 minutes to cause damage,” Golden said. “Recess is anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes.”
Before the final vote, Councilman Tommy Stewart proposed that the school and its neighbors put their heads together to come up with a more aesthetically pleasing solution. Bob Begert seconded the motion, but no one else supported it.
The proposal has been altered as it has made its way through the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council. Originally, the concrete pad would have been 24 feet by 42 feet, with the awning posted 14 feet above the ground. The school also shifted the pad site to the south a bit, so one of four cedar elm trees can be planted directly to its north. In time, that tree will presumably make it harder for neighbors on Amherst Avenue to see the green awning, which originally was going to be the same color as the school.
When the city sent notification letters to neighbors, it got 19 responses — 15 opposed to the shaded pad and four in favor of it. But by Tuesday, five of the 15 opponents had changed their tune. One of them was Lathram Pou, whose house on Amherst faces the back of the school.
“I understand progression is tough,” Pou said. “But with a design that includes the planting of more trees, myself and ... other neighbors have removed our objections.”
Rodger Jayroe, who owns a house on Amherst, brought up the “amazing” amount of concrete behind the school; there’s not a blade of grass between the sports court and the caretaker’s house.
Councilman Bob Clark asked whether all of the existing concrete was necessary. Orr said he was not willing to discuss that until the district’s architects present a master plan for dealing with growth.
“I’m simply not in a position to say we could remove concrete at this time,” Orr said. “I think a comprehensive look will be needed at that campus, as well as at Hyer, which also would be in need of expansion.”