In October of 2019, St. Mark’s sustained extensive, campus-wide damage from the devastating tornado that struck the city of Dallas. While many of the buildings on campus were impacted, with the damage totaling in the tens of millions of dollars, athletic facilities were among the most seriously affected. The high wind, debris impact, and water damage across the campus required the re-roofing of nearly every building, the replanting of several hundred trees, the reconstruction of the Chapel pipe organ (which will be reinstalled over Spring Break), major repairs to Decherd Fine Arts Center, the replacement of every School vehicle, substantial infrastructure work, and more. Elements of this work are ongoing and will continue for some time. Despite the time and resources required to redevelop such a large portion of the campus, the School’s primary goal has been to sustain strong curricular and co-curricular experiences for the boys and to provide meaningful opportunities for every Marksman to reach his full potential, regardless of outside forces.
The redevelopment of the northeast area of the campus that was destroyed by the tornado is a wide-ranging project that involves numerous key elements, including extensive city planning, significant new financial resources, long-range campus planning, and neighborhood engagement. The expansion of the northern perimeter of the campus along Orchid Lane, including straightening the fence and moving it closer to the street, is well underway and should be completed this winter. This will add more than 3,000 square feet of usable real estate to the campus for long-term flexibility and expand the School’s northern footprint. Given the complexities of a new Athletic Complex and Tennis Center and the time and resources necessary to complete this project, five of the tennis courts are currently being resurfaced in order to serve the School’s tennis team on campus this school year, an effort made possible in large part through the support of several St. Mark’s families.
Shortly after the tornado, an Athletic Center Planning Committee was established by former Board President Clark Hunt ’83 and has been led by current President Kathy Crow. The Committee includes Trustees, senior administrators, athletic and physical education staff, and third-party vendors. St. Mark’s campus master planning consultant, Jeff Blanchard, who has worked closely with St. Mark’s for nearly 20 years, has also been an integral part of the planning process. This team has gone through a thorough and extensive review of programmatic needs in the new facility and is working in close concert with neighbors and the city.
As with any project of this magnitude, it was necessary to pursue an amendment to the School’s Planned Development ordinance that went through the Planning and Zoning Commission last spring and gained approval from the Dallas City Council in June 2021. Included in this process has been a series of neighborhood meetings to share development plans with surrounding residents and city officials to ensure that there are open lines of communication.
Another vitally important component of the tornado recovery has been a comprehensive insurance recovery process, which is nearing completion. At the same time, conversations are being held with prospective donors who can help fund the significant difference between the ultimate insurance settlement and the cost of the new facility — an over and above tally that will likely exceed $40-45 million, based on estimates to date. The Athletic Center Committee has also assembled a project team of key partners (contractors, engineers, architects, project managers, etc.) to support this project. St. Mark’s recently selected Cannon Design as the design architect, following a nationwide search. Other key partners include Beck Construction and Architecture, Legends Project Management, and Counsilman-Hunsacker pool consultants, among others. St. Mark’s also maintains a longstanding fiscal policy that requires 100% of the funding to be raised prior to the initiation of construction on a new or renovated facility. The Athletic Center Committee, led by Trustee Carl Sewell ’02, is working toward completing both the building design process and the fundraising in 2022, so that construction can commence within the next year. This is a lofty but achievable target. It is anticipated that the construction project will take between 18 and 24 months.
Successful completion of this new Athletic Complex will be a team effort, as has been every step of the tornado recovery. St. Mark’s looks forward to sharing community-wide updates on this important front in the coming months, including regular progress reports on the School’s website as the project unfolds over the next few years.