Hearing over injunction to stop BISD from razing South Park continues

David Yates Jul. 30, 2009, 6:00am

A hearing over the future of South Park Middle School is attended by those who want to save the building as well as those who want to see it replaced.

Every "intelligent tax payer" living in Beaumont should be "offended" that the school district wants to raze a structurally-sound building and replace it with a more expensive facility, said one local engineer at a recent hearing.

Sina Nejad of Sigma Engineers testified during a July 29 hearing to determine if a temporary injunction to stop the Beaumont Independent School District from demolishing South Park Middle School is warranted.

The hearing began July 28 in Judge Bob Wortham's 58th District Court, and is continuing as of press time.

At issue is an 86-year-old school building that the district plans to tear down as part of a recent $389 million bond project.

Each day the courtroom has been crowded with graduates of the old South Park High School, which once occupied the building, who see it as a historical site.

But also in attendance are residents of the neighborhood surrounding the school, who see the demolition as an opportunity for lower income children to receive an education in a brand new, state-of-the-art facility.

In early July, the Beaumont Heritage Society filed and obtained a temporary restraining order, alleging BISD misled voters during the district's $389 million bond issue.

They claim that pamphlets distributed by the Beaumont Chamber of Commerce leading up the bond election stated the district would not tear down South Park, but would renovate the school.

Michael Getz, attorney for the Heritage Society, said voters relied on that information when approving the bond.

In response to Getz's assertions, BISD Superintendent Carrol Thomas testified the district was not responsible for the content in the pamphlets, which he claimed were put together and printed by a local newspaper, The Examiner.

But the publisher of The Examiner, Don Dodd, testified that the content for the pamphlets was sent to the paper via e-mail from the district's former public relations officer.

Thomas maintained he had no knowledge of any school officials disseminating such information and said several school officials did, however, choose to campaign for the bond in an unofficial manner.

Although South Park weathered three of the area's worst hurricanes and has stood since 1923, BISD claims the building cannot accommodate an expected influx of new middle school students.

However, testimony and court documents shows that the school's attendance has dramatically declined in recent years and would, if left standing, bottom out at around 400 students.

The school currently has a capacity of 30 classrooms.

Thomas also testified that it would be 25 percent more expensive to renovate South Park rather than raze the school and spend $42 million to build a new one.

Conversely, Nejad testified that the only way it would be more expensive to renovate is if the district put "gold-plated knobs" on every door.

On several occasions, Getz has publically claimed that BISD never bothered to perform a solid cost effective study on the difference between demolishing versus renovating the school.

Nejad, who examined some of the structural studies the district paid to have done, said several discrepancies he found in the reports caused him to question the company's reliability.

Nejad testified that he attempted to examine South Park for himself, but was blocked by BISD's council and instructed to leave the school's premises.

Should South Park School be torn down? Vote in our online poll on the Southeast Texas Record home page!

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