School District, Developers Collaborate

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Instead of butting heads with local schools, developers Hillwood Residential and Mabrey & Partners, both of Dallas, partnered with the local district to help meet the quickly growing needs of the community.

July 01, 2006

2,500 acres. 8,000 homes. Seven public schools. Heartland, a Dallas-area development that kicked off construction spring 2005, is a rural master planned community preparing for an estimated 25,000 residents — including roughly 3,600 kids.

Instead of butting heads with local schools, developers Hillwood Residential and Mabrey & Partners, both of Dallas, partnered with the local district. James Mabrey says he knew building more than 400 homes a year meant growth could negatively affect Crandall, the local independent school district.

As plans for the Kaufman County, Texas, development took shape in 2003, Mabrey had an informal chat with the superintendent at the time, Jerry Morgan. "I told him, I want to learn about your business, and I want you to learn about mine. We're defacto partners in this whether we like it or not," Mabrey says. He recalls Morgan's willingness — and relief — to collaborate.

The partnership means swapping enrollment information and permit counts to prepare for growth. From a design standpoint, kids will benefit from traffic-calming devices like roundabouts and curves forcing cars to slow near schools, and all students will live close enough to walk to class. And financially, Crandall will receive ½ percent of all home sales to offset the stress of growth on programs, facilities and staff; the district gets money upfront to build schools; and students could earn scholarships.

"It's important to protect the quality of schools, but it's not just benevolence. It's good for me, too," says Mabrey. "If I have high-quality districts, home values go up."

Families have already begun moving in, and construction on the first school is set for spring 2007.

"The key is to go in and have an open dialogue in the beginning rather than just building or finding a site [for the school] after-the-fact," Mabrey says. "The closer people live to school, the more active they are in after-school programs, PTAs. You feel like you're in a neighborhood, and it becomes neighborhood premium."

Schools sit in the middle of neighborhoods in Heartland. The master planned community in Texas will have 400 acres of open space, including a 35-acre stocked lake.

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