The Travis County Taxpayers Union has asked the Austin school district to halt any plans to demolish T.A. Brown Elementary, alleging the structural damage that prompted the sudden closure of the school was exaggerated to win over voters for a proposed November bond election.
The Austin school board is slated to call for the bond election Monday night. While the list of projects and dollar amount isn’t 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, 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 chief financial officer.
“The safety and security of our students is our top priority,” Superintendent Paul Cruz said in response 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 that 1 in 3 of the district’s buildings are in poor condition, was part of a monthslong 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 reached centennial birthdays. District leaders have said the closure of Brown underscores the problems at some of the schools.
Brown Elementary, on West 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.
Bond vote expected Monday
The Austin school board is slated Monday night to call for a bond election in November. The bond is expected to be about $1 billion, though the exact amount and the list of projects haven’t been set yet. Visit statesman.com on Monday for live coverage of the meeting.