A virtual town hall meeting Monday to update the Timbergrove community on amendments to a plan that originally called for adding two temporary buildings to Houston ISD's Sinclair Elementary - while removing 23 mature pine trees from the campus - was attended by more than 80 people, including representatives of both Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston City Council member Abbie Kamin.
Principal Lee Mashburn announced a revision to the school's expansion plan, which he described as a “polarizing issue.” Sinclair now plans to install one modular building of eight classrooms and one restroom building before the start of the 2021-22 school year, which Mashburn said will require the removal of 8-12 trees.
Mashburn said he had met with faculty and staff before the town hall and received positive feedback about the modification.
“I appreciate that HISD has come to the table and is listening to constituents’ concerns – that’s what we had asked of them along with an alternative plan that would protect the trees,” Kamin said. “Because this new proposal was just announced (Monday), we are still reaching out to residents to see how they feel about it. Neighbors and parents of the school have been so engaged, and it’s important for their voices to be heard.”
Sinclair parent Jacki Schaefer described the decision as politically conscious, calling it “one in which everyone ended up getting a little of what they want and a little of what they didn’t.”
In January, Mashburn advocated for two new modular buildings because of projections that Sinclair’s enrollment, now at 589, would top 700 by the 2025-26 school year.
At this week’s meeting, Mashburn said the one new building would address the campus' capacity needs for the foreseeable future while maintaining the open play area with soccer and baseball fields at 6410 Grovewood Ln.
He said the timeline would still allow the HISD facilities team to implement the project in time for the 2021-22 school year. And he stressed that acceptance of the new building would not preclude Sinclair from being considered as part of any future HISD bond projects.
Mashburn said there would be a notification on the school’s website at least 24 hours before the trees are removed.
Mashburn said the existing temporary buildings on campus, which are more than 30 years old, will be updated as needed and utilized in the upcoming year, perhaps as science or writing labs.
The principal also said there will still be a need for a stormwater retention area, but that it would not be a retention pond that would hold standing water long term.
Schaefer said she wonders what will happen to the rest of the money allocated for the project, which was earmarked at more than $3 million. Mashburn did not provide an estimated cost for the revised plan.
“I continue to wonder about these oldest buildings - the ones that are so decrepit and unsafe that the principal and district all agreed we needed to offset some of them,” Schaefer said. “The ones that continue to drain maintenance time and money from HISD and other campuses. How can we so easily turn around and accept them as a continued part of campus?”
Miles Sasser, president of the Timbergrove Manor Civic Club, said the compromise was a positive in that additional feedback was taken and the original plan changed when community input was considered.
Sasser said he was a little surprised the previously expressed need for two new buildings, which was described as urgent last month, could so easily be adjusted to one. And he questions how COVID-19 might change the school landscape.
“My company is still virtual until at least summer and I know of other companies that will be partially or mostly remote next year,” he said. “I wonder if people’s changing work patterns will change where they decide to live. If people are only committed to drive to work one or two times a week, will more of them decide to move to the suburbs?”
Sasser knows more high-density development is coming to the area but feels the hampered pace caused by the pandemic will give the school more time to evaluate and plan for the long term.
Sinclair parent Traci Riley said there will be wins in other Houston school communities because of the neighborhood advocacy on this issue.
“HISD cannot continue to operate in silos and our area elected officials are taking notice,” Riley said. “Decisions that have a multi-generational impact should be made together.”