AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin ISD is taking the first public steps Wednesday to rebuild a school that abruptly closed two years ago due to structural concerns.
Engineers found serious problems in the concrete sub-floors and crawl space at T.A. Brown Elementary, prompting the mid-week closure of the school in November 2016. Students were bused to other campuses for the remainder of the school year and never returned to Brown. The school was torn down in October 2017.
Wednesday, AISD planned a site dedication, a step before groundbreaking, for the new school that will be built in its place. The money to rebuild T.A. Brown comes from the $1 billion bond voters approved last year.
On Thursday the district will break ground on construction of the new Menchaca Elementary, which will be a modernized campus on the same site as the current school.
“The district has done a very good job of getting those projects underway quickly after the bond so that we can break ground and start that construction,” said Bob Cervi, AISD’s executive director of construction management and facilities.
But with $5 billion in construction needs throughout the district, Cervi said, projects had to be prioritized.
Back in 2016, KXAN scoured engineer reports and found 11 other AISD schools with “poor” ratings for the same sub-floor structures that forced the closure of T.A. Brown. The problems weren’t as dire, but the engineers recommended repairs and more analysis.
KXAN compared the engineer reports to the lists of work being done with bond money and found four of the schools that rated “poor” for “Underside of Suspended Floor Slabs Above,” the same criteria that caused Brown to close, are not getting money for those repairs.
Barton Hills, Oak Hill, and Odom elementary schools and Garza Independence High School will get other money from the bond, but not for the sub-floor improvements.
Cervi stressed the problems don’t necessitate urgent action. “Those schools being occupied doesn’t put anyone at risk.”
The district looked at overall assessments identified in the Facilities Master Plan, or FMP, and chose projects for the bond money based on the most urgent needs, an AISD spokesperson told KXAN in an email, reiterating that no other school needed “the quick action we took at TA Brown.”
The FMP sets out guidelines for improving and replacing schools over a 25-year period, which will come to a substantially higher cost, and gives timelines for individual campuses. The “poor” crawl space ratings at the four schools were not enough to require repairs in this current round of funding.
Odom Elementary is in the most immediate timeframe the district set out, slated to receive a full modernization in 1-12 years due to its overall poor assessment. Oak Hill Elementary needs a full modernization within 6-12 years for the same reason.
Both Barton Hills Elementary and Garza Independence High are included in the 12-25-year timeframe, Barton Hills for complete modernization, Garza for renovation.
The other seven schools KXAN identified in 2016 (Graham, Sunset Valley, Williams and Zilker elementary schools and Bedichek, Dobie, and Webb middle schools) are earmarked for “below-floor crawl space” improvements and repairs using money from the 2017 bond. Those will happen by 2020, according to district timelines.
The priorities of the bond money were to address the schools that needed the most work and complete rebuilds.
At the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, for instance, “it did score very low based on the age of the school and some of the deficiencies and deferred maintenance at that site,” he said, “and as a result, that’s going to be a whole brand new building.”
Two groundbreakings coming next month will address more pressing needs, he said, at Doss and Govalle elementary schools.
Meanwhile, Cervi said, the district’s maintenance staff will continue to work hard to ensure the problems don’t worsen and the buildings are still safe for students.