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MAPS CASA Playhouse

Professional builder David Espedal, far left, oversees the playhouse construction with Highland Park High School MAPS students.

Some Highland Park High School students are ending their year with a bang — of the hammer. The students are hard at work on one of the eye-catching creations that will be a part of the 29th annual Dallas CASA Parade of Playhouses. The event is planned for June 14 through 30 at NorthPark Center as a fundraiser for Dallas CASA.

The nonprofit, dedicated to advocating on behalf of children in the foster care system, has made the Parade of Playhouses its signature fundraiser, and the high school students are working to build and bring one of this year’s whimsical, over-the-top playhouses to the shopping center. In the past, playhouses to be raffled have included a turret, a barn, a barn, and a submarine, making an eye-catching display for the public to see.


A Unique Partnership With Preservation Park Cities

The students’ playhouse project is a result of a unique partnership. Their classwork will result in a petite version of one of the Park Cities’ Top 100, as designated by the organization Preservation Park Cities. Highland Park High School students, collaborating with instructors in the Moody Advanced Professional Studies (MAPS) program, are replicating a miniature version of the oldest remaining University Park house. Preservation Park Cities enthusiastically funded the students’ project.

“We love that these students are learning about the architecture and the architects in their own neighborhood,” said Amy Beale, president of Preservation Park Cities. “We love that they are using their own creativity and putting it on display, and we’re very interested in training the next generation of architects.”

Teaching The Future of Architecture

Giving junior and senior students a look into professional skills is a part of Highland Park High School’s MAPS program. The advanced educational program gives course credits for team projects.

Polly McKeithen, MAPS professional engagement administrator, and Yvette Hightower, MAPS program architecture instructor, spend class time with the students who are working on the playhouse. The class, comprised of students who must apply for acceptance, brings professionals in architecture, design, engineering, and environmental sciences to share knowledge into related fields.

“We give students a view into the window of a career they might be interested in in college,” McKeithen said. “It meets the kids where they are. What we’re offering thes kids to explore this course material with professional partners. That kind of exposure to professionals is really exquisite. This gives them also a chance to practice team building skills, their communications skills and that creative problems that is intrinsic.”

Through Preservation Park Cities, the students chose The Mouzon-Wise Home. The house, once owned by Southern Methodist University, was recently renovated. That process involved maintaining its historic façade while thoughtfully updating it with modern materials and saving heritage trees, McKeithen said. All of it was part of the educational process.

“With that comes the validation, there is a place for historic preservation,” she said.

When the students chose to design and construct a miniature version of the historic home for CASA’s Parade of Playhouses, McKeithen couldn’t have been more pleased.

“This year was the centennial for University Park, so how obvious to choose one in University Park, and they chose the oldest in University Park,” she said.


The Mouzon-Wise house, former home of Southern Methodist University Founder Bishop Edwin DuBose Mouzon, is the oldest remaining home in University Park. (Photo: Lanabird)

Partnering With a Dallas Builder

A third partner also is involved. Guiding the students from a professional standpoint has been David Espedal, president of Espedal Design + Construct. He worked with the students from the first tour of the historic home inspiring the playhouse. He’s mentored them on the plans, the framing, the building restrictions, and he’s been impressed with what he’s seen from the aspiring builders.

“It’s a great group of kids,” he said. He remembers the students asking if they could build a balcony on the playhouse, and he liked their enthusiasm and creativity. “It’s really neat, and it makes sense, too. I told them ‘let’s make it work.’ We have framed this like we would frame a custom home in the Park Cities.”


The Highland Park High School students work as a team on the playhouse.

Playhouses’ Public Preview

The finished playhouse will be on display at NorthPark Center for all visitors to view. It’s a positive experience for so many, including CASA, which receives the proceeds of the fundraiser involving so many in the community.

“A happy childhood is what we all want for children in protective care, and these incredible and beautiful houses represent that dream,” said Becca Leonard, Dallas CASA’s chief development officer. “We want every child to have the kind of childhood these playhouses make us dream of – a childhood that’s not just safe, enriching and supported but full of love, fun and playfulness.”

Helping children, inspiring high school students, and informing the public about community needs is why the annual Parade of Playhouses is such a popular Dallas event.

“Supporting Dallas CASA, supporting our MAPS students, and educating our community in a creative and unique way is a win-win-win for our organization,” Beale said.

Posted in Historic Preservation


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