- Melissa B. Taboada American-Statesman Staff
4:45 p.m. UPDATE:
The Austin district’s T.A. Brown Elementary, shuttered abruptly on Thursday, will remain closed.
The floor system under the classroom wings and cafeteria has deteriorated so badly that engineers and district leaders fear a portion of the floor framing could collapse.
“We’re not going to use the facility again. That we do know,” said Superintendent Paul Cruz.
Engineers who performed an assessment of the school said the damage is too costly to fix.
“We don’t recommend this be repaired at all,” said Anna Boenig, a structural engineer and vice president of P.E. Structural Consultants, the consulting firm that discovered the damage.
The 360 students who attend T.A. Brown, located in north Austin, will be divided between two facilities: prekindergarten and kindergarten students will attend Reilly Elementary, located about two miles away. But the majority of the students will be bused to the former Allan Elementary in far east Austin, about a 45 minute bus ride during peak hours.
1:30 p.m. update:
The floors at T.A. Brown Elementary are so unstable that the Austin school district is closing the school indefinitely.
The structure underneath has deteriorated and district leaders fear a portion of the floor framing could collapse. District leaders are trying to determine where they will send the approximately 360 students who attend the campus.
In a letter to school board members, Superintendent Paul Cruz detailed the problems:
“The engineer reported that the precast channels have deteriorated and likely no longer have sufficient structural capacity to support code prescribed loads,” Cruz said. “Given the large number of damaged channels, there is a concern that a portion of the floor framing could fail and possibly collapse.”
The problems were found during a visit to the north Austin campus from an engineer during a months-long assessment of all district facilities. An engineer discovered the problems during a review of the crawl space between the flooring and the subfloor. The structural issues were found in the entryway and one wing, prompting further investigation of the rest of the campus that is ongoing.
District officials say they are unsure the extent of repairs needed, or how much they may cost, but it’s unlikely students will be able to return to the school in coming weeks. They said the district’s immediate focus is determining where to relocate the students, nearly all of whom are low-income.
The average age of district buildings is 40 years old, and some campuses are a century old.
The original T.A. Brown campus, comprised of a dozen classrooms, a library, a cafeteria and a media room, was built 60 years ago.
“I’m surprised we haven’t heard of similar issues in other schools, just because they’re so old,” said Trustee Paul Saldaña.
The district conducted a facilities review in 2011 as part of a facilities master plan, but it’s unclear how comprehensive the review was or whether any issues were detected at the school then. Saldaña said the team conducting the assessments was hired to perform a much more comprehensive review than those in the past.
The district’s deferred maintenance and debt service from facilities needs top $1.5 billion, and the new assessment will likely show the figure to be much higher.
T. A. Brown Elementary School in the Austin district will cancel school Friday over safety concerns regarding the floor structural capacity.
As part of an ongoing district facility assessment, an engineer visited the school on Thursday and discovered structural issues that could affect the stability of the floors.
On Thursday evening, the district sent a letter to parents notifying them of the problem and the cancellation of classes.
The letter does not say when classes might resume at the campus.
“We are working quickly to identify the best alternative for T.A. Brown Elementary School students in the long term,” Principal Veronica Sharp wrote in the letter. “We will keep you updated and informed of developments.”
Brown Elementary was built in 1957, according to district records, and originally contained 12 classrooms, a library, a cafeteria and a media room.
The school, on West Anderson Lane in north Austin, has about 360 students.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.