AUSTIN (KXAN) — The fate of Palm School is in the palms of Travis County leaders. The Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioner’s Court will decide what to do with the building in the coming weeks.
On Monday morning outside the old school entrance with vintage pictures on a whiteboard at the group’s side, the grassroots coalition “Save Palm School” made a plea for preservation to be a part of that plan.
The historical building on the corner of Cesar Chavez Street and Interstate 35 frontage road was one of Austin’s first elementary schools, founded in the late 1800s. It remained open for 84 years before closing in 1976. Today, it houses the Travis County Health, Human and Veteran Services department but with county plans to move to a new building next year, the future of the Palm School remains shaky.
Many Hispanic leaders and advocates attended and spoke including Alicia Perez-Hodge, who represents La Raza Roundtable and League of United Latin American Citizens.
“Mexican-American history, places and buildings have been sacrificed in the name of progress,” she said. “Well, we want progress but do we really need another tower, apartment complex? No, we need to make contact with the community. This is our sand. Right in Palm School.”
The speakers were joined by City Council Member Kathie Tovo and Mayor Steve Adler who co-sponsored a resolution to expand the convention center while also maintaining the surrounding cultural “Palm District,” with a school and adjacent park. The resolution is set to be considered by the City Council on Thursday.
If adopted, the city manager will have to present a convention center expansion analysis and initial design by the end of July. A project timeline would also be expected for design work, documents, actions and ordinances.
The city believes it can benefit from a “comprehensive planning approach” to the district in which Palm school resides.
“Over the course of many years, we have had disparate, fragmented planning around these assets, and I believe we have a unique opportunity right now to bring together the various groups who have deep and vested ties in this area along with the many new individuals and businesses that now call this area home,” wrote Council Member Tovo in a note to council.
On their Facebook page, the grassroots coalition said that Travis County is focused on drafting covenants for the sale or lease of the property to maximize its real estate value.
“This would inevitably lead towards the maximum redevelopment of the property violating the integrity of Palm School and the nearby Palm Park,” the group wrote.
Tovo said the people fighting to preserve Palm School made had “powerful” things to say.
“We don’t need another condominium development here on the site of what was once Palm School,” she said. “What we need are ways to honor and to celebrate the history of the people who have made Austin the great city it is today.”