BISD circumvents judge's South Park order by using general funds

David Yates Apr. 6, 2010, 11:43am

After a nine-month legal battle, demolition of South Park Middle School began on April 2.

On Good Friday, a massive backhoe crushed the front steps leading up to South Park Middle School, ending a nine month struggle between the Beaumont Independent School District and residents who wished to preserve the 87-year-old campus.

Last summer, the Beaumont Heritage Society and local "Greenie" Eddie Estilette sought and received a temporary restraining order, halting BISD from razing South Park and erecting a more costly structure in its stead.

In an April 6 telephone interview, an attorney for the Beaumont Heritage Society, Michael Getz, said BISD's choice to tear down the school on Good Friday was "despicable" and "par for the course."

Getz added he and his clients have exhausted all their legal avenues and that the district committed fraud in achieving its goal.

Judge Bob Wortham, who presided over the schoolhouse drama, had determined there was enough evidence indicating that BISD may have misled voters during the $389 million bond election held in 2007.

Several hearings preceeded and followed the TRO, in which testimony from a wide-range of individuals was given.

Most notably was testimony offered by Sina Nejad of Sigma Engineers, who said during a July 29 hearing that 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.

More evidence and testimony showed 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.

During an early August hearing, BISD Superintendent Carrol Thomas testified the district was not responsible for the content in the pamphlets.

He claimed were put together and printed by a local newspaper, The Examiner.

Eventually, Wortham ruled against BISD, verbally ordering on Jan. 6 that no bond funds could be spent to demolish South Park.

However, after a failed Heritage Society appeal to increase the scope of the order, the district was able to dip into its general capitol funds to acquire a permit to hire a demolition crew and bulldoze the campus.

BISD attorney Melody Chappell told the Record the school board voted on March 18 to use approximately $135,000 stemming from general capitol funds to tear down the building.

Judge Wortham explained to the Record that his order did not stop BISD from using unrelated bond funds, nor does the order restrict BISD from using bond money to build a new school.

Only days before demolition crews went to work, on March 31 Getz successfully petitioned Judge Wortham to modify his ruling to include several finding of facts.

Some of the finding of facts include demographic projections showing that South Park will continue to lose enrolment; total square footage of the building, and that BISD never performed a detailed cost analysis of what it would cost to renovate the building versus razing the structure and building a new one.

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.

Trial case No. D184-425

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