The October 2019 tornado wreaked havoc on the St. Mark’s campus, badly damaging many buildings, destroying most roof structures and vehicles, and leaving the northern two-thirds of the School’s physical plant in dire condition. Among the many devastating outcomes of the tornado was the loss of more than 250 trees across campus, including much of the School’s Preston Road frontage that had been built up over many decades, as well as a vast array of trees along the Orchid Lane northern perimeter, laying bare the once park-like environment that provided a beautiful transition and connection with the surrounding neighborhood.
In the weeks following the tornado, individuals, families, and organizations across the city came together in mutual support to address the damage to homes, businesses, schools, and others in Dallas. It was inspiring to see so many in the community respond quickly to restore the foundations that had been so badly rocked by this storm. Within the St. Mark’s community, many families came forward to support campus restoration through increased gifts to the St. Mark’s Fund, by addressing specific needs, and volunteering to help get the School back on its feet. Notwithstanding the severe damage to our campus and the surrounding area, herculean efforts by the School’s facilities team, countless volunteers, and outstanding professional partners, St. Mark’s was able to resume classes and normal operations after missing just seven days of school.
As the overall damage assessments began to emerge in the weeks following the tornado, several families with longstanding School ties stepped forward with significant financial commitments to anonymously fund the restoration of all the trees and green spaces that had been destroyed across the campus. This response was not only representative of tremendous generosity, but it also addressed a vitally important need that was not covered by insurance. The leadership and support from these families allowed the School to begin planning last winter for the complete redevelopment of the campus perimeter and installation of new trees throughout the campus.
“Beautiful grounds provide relaxing spaces for the boys to unwind in between classes and give the entire community a tremendous sense of pride,” said Ryan Robinson ’86, Chair of the Facilities Committee of the Board of Trustees. “Our longstanding landscaping partners, including Tres Fromme and Lake Wilcoxson, are providing valuable professional assistance, ensuring that our investments in trees and landscape will thrive in the best locations on campus for generations to come.”
Some of the most visible improvements include a prominent row of savannah hollies along the Orchid fence line, a row of new magnolia trees along the northeast corner of campus adjacent to the damaged Hill Tennis Center, and, more recently, the installation of new red oak and live oak trees along the Preston Road and Orchid lane frontages. In addition, new trees have been added to the parking lot and other interior locations across campus to replace those destroyed in the storm.
"This work is about restoring a sense of order and normalcy to our green spaces, both for the benefit of our neighbors as well as the boys," said Suzanne Townsend, Chief Financial Officer. "Trees are such landmarks, and the ones in Preston Hollow had always been so lovely and mature before the tornado. I am so grateful for our top-notch facilities and maintenance team members who have worked tirelessly alongside our landscape providers to help accomplish all that has been done.”
During the past sixteen months, the St. Mark’s campus has undergone a dramatic transformation in response to the damage sustained in the tornado, from the removal and rebuilding of the Roosevelt Family Pipe Organ in the Chapel and the replacement of copper roofs across the entire campus to the rebuilding of backstops, replacement of school vehicles, and the refurbishment of damaged buildings. In addition, planning is well underway for the replacement of the athletic facilities that were destroyed on the northeast corner of campus including the Hill Tennis Center and the Hicks Family Athletic Center. A Planning Committee that includes Trustees, administrators, faculty, and professional advisors was formed last year to develop plans for the redevelopment of these important buildings and resources. Early concept plans have been submitted to the Dallas City Planning Commission so that the School can move forward with these projects once the planning, approvals, and funding have been fully secured.
While the October 2019 tornado left lasting emotional and physical scars on the St. Mark’s campus and the city of Dallas, it is the resilience, determination, and shared sense of community that will be remembered most. Thanks in large measure to the unyielding generosity, commitment, and shared sense of purpose that so many have demonstrated, St. Mark’s is stronger and better prepared for what lies ahead.
Stay tuned for ongoing campus improvements in the coming months and years as we work together to sustain and strengthen our School.