Monday, February 8, 2010

demolition averted?

Interesting turn of events this past week. I attended a Historic Landmark Commission meeting to air out my opinions regarding Alamo Elementary. There were others there who had the same idea. Fortunately, the local media took an interest and covered the discussion of the school. The stars aligned for that one evening as the HLC voted to initiate a historic overlay zoning for the old school. It was a spirited discussion and I was pleasantly surprised by the commission's actions. Needless to say I was floored to hear what happened next -- the school district announced it would not demolish the school. Though after the initial elation, I couldn't help feeling a bit of unease. It will most likely take a few months for the HLC to get the designation in place. I'm hopeful the school district will keep its word in the meantime.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

alamo elementary

I'm somewhat a fan of old schools. Aside from their architectural beauty, there is a certain comfort I find in them. Kinda like a well worn shoe. Alamo elementary is the oldest school still standing in el paso. Built in 1898 by Edward Kneezell, it is currently under threat of demolition. The El Paso Independent School District got bond monies several years ago to aid in the "reconstruction" of the old school. Apparently, they never really were specific about what that meant. Today that means the school is completely unsafe and needs to be replaced with a brand new school. The segundo barrio icon has been shut down for a few years -- my guess is the construction was put on standby as the surrounding block was rebuilt. There was a large urban housing complex from the 30s across the street that was torn down and replaced with new housing. Only now as that project is coming to a close, is the fate of the school coming to light.

The school district has put forward several weak arguments why the school must come down. For example, the architect isn't well known and insensitive modifications to the exterior have severely cheapened any historic value. A portico has been removed, as well as an alteration to the parapet on part of the facade, but I still think it retains much of its old character. There was also a fire in the basement many years ago. Seems to me that the fire wasn't that severe or else the building would have been torn down afterwards. I doubt EPISD would put children at risk in an unsafe structure.

What bothers me aside from the whole destruction of a historic building thing is that the school district isn't really being upfront about what they're doing with taxpayer money. When I voted for the bond I assumed the main building would be refurbished and the supplemental 1990s additions would be renovated or added on to. I don't get how they can look taxpayers in the eye and ask for more money -- "it's for the kids". I'm all about improving education, but I truly do believe the current building was doing just fine. There was already a significant investment in the school (recently I might add). Use that money to fix the structure and update it as necessary. But here we are again a few years later, time for another bond money handout. What a waste..