The Travis County Taxpayers Union has asked the Austin school district to halt any plans to demolish T.A. Brown Elementary, alleging the structural damages that prompted the sudden closure of the school were exaggerated to win over voters for a proposed November bond election.
The Austin school board is slated to call for the bond election on Monday night. While the list of projects and dollar amount is not yet finalized, trustees are in consensus that rebuilding Brown will be included in it.
The school was shuttered abruptly in November after engineers, performing an assessment of the school, alerted district officials that the floor supports under the classroom wings and cafeteria had deteriorated so badly that they feared a portion of the floor framing could collapse. The engineers also said the damage is too costly to fix.
The taxpayers’ advocacy group, which is headed by former Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman, says it suspects that engineering studies “exaggerated claims of structural deterioration at T.A. Brown Elementary, and possibly other facilities, for the political motivation of gaining voter sympathy and support for the exorbitant $1 billion bond contemplated for Nov. 2017.”
The group is requesting another structural inspection from a separate structural engineering consultant.
The district did have a second set of structural engineers who validated the consultant’s work and found it was a meaningful assessment, said Nicole Conley Johnson, the district’s CFO.
“The safety and security of our students is our top priority,” said Superintendent Paul Cruz, responding to the group’s claims. “Our taxpayers and parents can be assured that we made the decision to close T.A. Brown Elementary School with extensive information from trusted engineers with our students in mind.”
Zimmerman has also submitted to the district a public information request asking for the condition assessment reports for Brown Elementary, correspondence, contracts and other documents.
A building-by-building assessment, which determined one-in-three of the district’s buildings are in poor condition, was part of a months-long review of all the district’s schools that informed a 25-year facility master plan approved in April that aims at modernizing the district and all of its schools.
The district’s average facility is 40 years old, though some have reach centennial birthdays. District leaders have said the closure of Brown underscores the problems at some schools.
Brown Elementary, located on W. Anderson Lane in north Austin, was built in 1957, and originally contained 12 classrooms, a library, a cafeteria and a media room, according to district records. At the time of closure, the school had about 360 students who were sent to two other campuses after the district said it was structurally unsafe to keep educating them there.