Fate of South Park Middle School now in judge's hands

David Yates Sep. 22, 2009, 1:14pm

Before he concluded a permanent injunction hearing to stop South Park Middle School from being razed, Judge Bob Wortham urged both parties to find a compromise before he ruled.

In early August, Judge Wortham, 58th District Court, granted the Beaumont Heritage Society's and former South Park student Eddie Estilette's request for a temporary injunction, determining that the evidence and testimony presented suggested the Beaumont Independent School District may have misled voters in the 2007 bond election.

BISD appealed the ruling and on Sept. 18 the Texas Ninth Court of Appeals affirmed Wortham's decision, booting the case back down to his court for a permanent injunction hearing, which began Monday and concluded Tuesday, Sept. 22.

During the hearing, the parties reiterated the evidence presented from the August hearing and added a couple of additional experts, who contradicted each other and respectively testified that it was either cheaper or more expensive to raze or renovate South Park, depending on their side's point of view.

"The court is going to have a lot of reviewing to do," Wortham said after he concluded the hearing, adding that he would exam the evidence presented in the past hearing as well as the present.

He went on to implore both parties to hire a "truly neutral person" to independently examine the cost of renovating and expanding South Park versus razing the structure and replacing it.

"It sound like it would be the most logical decision for both parties to expand the structure," Wortham said.

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.

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.

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 to 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.

"This has been an emotional case … and there is a lot at stake," Getz said during the hearing. "It's important to have trust in our elected officials. Had this injunction not been filed, people would have woken up one morning to find a pile of rubble where South Park once stood."

During the early August hearing, 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.

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, leading some critics to believe if a new bigger and more expensive middle school is warranted.

The district is represented in part by Melody Chappel.

Trial case No. D184-425
Appeals case No. 09-09-0037

More News