The 1915 Beacon Hill Elementary School building sits vacant on the grounds of Beacon Hill Academy. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

A new report by an independent engineering firm recommends the demolition of a vacant 1915 campus building at San Antonio Independent School District’s Beacon Hill Academy.

But City officials are not convinced.

For years, the district has remained in a state of limbo regarding the structure: the building has apparent flaws – from cracks in the brick exterior to internal water stains on the walls and ceiling – but SAISD lacks the money for a renovation or demolition.

The district commissioned a report by Raba Kistner Consultants to evaluate the structural integrity of the building.

Even though the firm “had hoped for the possibility of restoration” prior to its site visit in early April, it concluded that the building is “not salvageable,” according to the report. Issues include rainwater damage to the roof and deteriorated flooring.

The last remnant of the defunct Beacon Hill Elementary School has sat vacant for nearly 20 years on the same property as SAISD’s Beacon Hill Academy, built in 1999.

The report indicates that since the 1915 building was occupied, building materials, including metal, plaster, and cement have deteriorated, creating a one- to two-inch-thick “sea of ‘mush’ on the floor.”

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), whose district includes Beacon Hill, said he is concerned that the report commissioned by SAISD is not comprehensive. City officials visited Beacon Hill on Monday and are in the process of proposing a more in-depth evaluation of the building. Treviño said this proposal could be ready by the end of this week.

The floor of the Beacon Hill Elementary School building is deteriorating.
The floor of the Beacon Hill Elementary School building is deteriorating. Credit: Courtesy / SAISD

“It is probable that, if subjected to a high wind event such as a tornado, the roof system would be destroyed, leaving the upper perimeter masonry walls in jeopardy of partial or full collapse,” a manager from Raba Kistner wrote in the SAISD report.

Treviño, who is an architect by trade, said that using a tornado as a measure of stability is potentially problematic.

“The report simply says the building would fall if a tornado would hit it,” he said. “Well, so would other buildings.”

Raba Kistner recommends the building be demolished “as soon as possible,” and until then be encircled by a barricade one-and-a-half times taller than the building’s walls to protect any passersby.

“We don’t use the old building and do not have a need for it,” SAISD spokeswoman Leslie Price told the Rivard Report in an e-mail. “It is in poor condition and our preference is to have the building demolished. Removing it would provide for more playground space.”

Treviño said a more comprehensive evaluation might offer different conclusions. He and architects at the Office of Historic Preservation feel there is no evidence that the building is in danger of collapsing, he added.

Prior to the commissioned report, Treviño asked the Beacon Hill community to consider the possibility of a renovation, noting that the structure would be eligible for historic designation. Treviño said the building was constructed in 1915 and designed by architect Leo Dielmann.

SAISD officials repeatedly cited lack of funding as a reason for keeping the building on campus in its dilapidated state. District officials have estimated a complete renovation would cost between $5 million and $6 million, and a demolition would run between $250,000 and $300,000.

For a March 1 meeting with the community and COPS Metro Alliance, Treviño prepared a plan that included proposed funding mechanisms to bankroll the renovation. Some of these options included a historic preservation tax credit to recoup 25 percent of eligible rehab costs and a federal historic preservation tax incentive to credit 20 percent of the expenses.

At the meeting, Treviño acknowledged that these mechanisms would not cover the total cost of a renovation, but that the building merited saving. He reflected on San Antonio celebrating its Tricentennial, and the fact that the original Beacon Hill campus building had existed for one-third of the city’s history.

Treviño said the community could use the refurbished building as a tech center, library pop up, or expansion for the school.

SAISD Trustee Christina Martinez, whose District 6 includes Beacon Hill Academy, committed to finding the funds to demolish the old building if a teardown was deemed necessary and approved through the proper channels.

“The next step is to wait and hear what the City of San Antonio says,” Martinez said. “An upcoming meeting with district and City staff to go over the findings should happen soon. We are working to keep the families and staff updated as more information is made
available.”

CPS Energy, the Office of Historic Preservation, and an arborist from the City of San Antonio must sign off before a demolition permit can be considered.

In 2015, area residents circulated a petition to demolish the building. Signers described the building as an “eyesore,” questioning whether its existence caused health and safety issues. In April 2015, SAISD asked the City about a potential demolition.

OHP and the subcommittee for designation and demolition visited the building in May 2015, and told SAISD that the building was eligible for historic designation and demolition would not be approved.

At that time, OHP did not find evidence of significant structural deficiencies.

A parent to two Beacon Hill Elementary students, Michelle Ricondo said she doesn’t care whether the building gets demolished or renovated – she just wants to see some action.

“As a parent, we just want something to be done,” she told the Rivard Report.

Ricondo said she has heard about SAISD’s report and has been told the City is working to prepare its own assessment, lamenting the lack of a clear timeline for action.

Treviño agreed with Ricondo, saying action needed to be taken “yesterday,” but he acknowledged that he isn’t in the position to “pull the trigger” as the building is on SAISD property, and the process must go through City administrative departments.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.