A student runs past the 1915 Beacon Hill Elementary School building, which sits vacant on the grounds of Beacon Hill Academy.
A student walks past the 1915 Beacon Hill elementary school building, which sits vacant on the grounds of Beacon Hill Academy. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

After months of wrangling between the City of San Antonio and San Antonio Independent School District, officials from both sides have reached a tentative agreement to go ahead with the demolition of the 1915 Beacon Hill campus building.

City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposed agreement at a March 7 meeting.

“It has been such a long process, and really our kids are even happier than us,” said Beacon Hill Academy parent and COPS Metro Alliance leader Jacklyn Landaverde, one of a group of parents who wanted the dilapidated building on the school’s grounds torn down. “I would say I’m excited. I would say I’m joyful.”

In return for the City agreeing to issue a demolition permit, SAISD agreed to provide documentation to the City including drawings of the building, a 3D model, photographs, and a salvage plan for the materials of the structure; begin the process to consider designating other qualifying district buildings as landmarks; and implement a new cultural heritage curriculum.

“The driving force [in this deal] is really let’s create something that can be good for all of us and improve the community and make it a win-win instead of somebody having to win and somebody having to lose,” said Shanon Miller, the director of the city’s Office of Historic Preservation.

The City and SAISD have been at odds over the demolition of the Beacon Hill structure, which has been vacant for close to two decades. The building, which was designed by notable architect Leo M.J. Dielmann, has cracks in its brick exterior, boarded-up windows, and water damage.

Families of students who attend the adjacent elementary school have argued that despite the building’s historical significance, it presents a safety threat to students playing on the Beacon Hill campus.

SAISD estimated the cost to renovate the structure at somewhere between $5 million and $6 million, whereas the cost to raze it would be closer to $300,000. The district has stated it has the funds to cover the cost of demolition.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) previously advocated for the building’s renovation, saying alternate funding sources such as historic tax credits could be available.

Most recently, the district squared off with the City during a November meeting of the Historic and Design Review Commission. Commissioners voted to find the building historically significant.

After losing that vote, Beacon Hill parents vowed to meet with City Council members to convince them to vote for demolition and against the granting of a historic status. City documents included on the March 7 City Council agenda show the deal that has been hammered out in the months since the HDRC meeting.

Treviño told the Rivard Report he met with Superintendent Pedro Martinez in early January to talk through a potential agreement that could benefit both the City and district. The result is a “win-win for everybody,” Treviño said.

The cultural heritage curriculum is outlined in a 14-page document detailing a new partnership between the city’s Office of Historic Preservation and SAISD. With the pending loss of an historic building, Miller said the new curriculum will help instill a preservation ethic in students.

The focus areas of the new curriculum include strengthening community pride by “connecting youth to historic places,” and fostering a preservation ethic by involving students in historic preservation activities, according to the outline. The curriculum is expected to be rolled out in pilot form in the 2019-20 school year.

While HDRC recommended historic designation of the building and the Office of Historic Preservation believes that the structure is eligible for designation, Miller said her office saw that members of the community were more interested in seeing the needs of the school district met.

“In working with Councilman Treviño, we really just wanted to try to look at something that could be done to recognize the fact that historic buildings are important in the community and in the school district,” Miller said, “but then look at how we could move forward and mitigate the loss of one building in a meaningful way.”

SAISD spokeswoman Leslie Price said the district will await the results of the City Council vote and is optimistic about the proposal. SAISD has been pleased with the “meaningful discussions” it has been able to have with the City on the topic of historic preservation, Price said.

“The city and our district are working harmoniously together, balancing the importance of cultural heritage with what is best for our families,” said SAISD Trustee Christina Martinez, who represents the area that includes Beacon Hill Academy. “We’re hopeful that what we found as common ground will result in a decision on Thursday to end the historic designation process, allowing us to move forward with more open, green space for our children at Beacon Hill Academy, while also instilling in students the common value of preserving history.”

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.