Beacon Hill Academy parents and students gathered in a parking lot Wednesday morning to watch a dilapidated old school building on the campus fall to a demolition crew. Children donned pink and yellow plastic construction hats that hung low over their eyes and cheered each time “the claw” of an excavator punctured a side of the building.
The 1915 campus building designed by renowned architect Leo Dielmann has long been the bane of campus staff and San Antonio Independent School District officials.
The fate of the aged structure, located near the school’s present building, became the focus of a prolonged debate between SAISD and the city of San Antonio during the two decades when the building sat vacant. Over the last year and a half, Beacon Hill parents and community members teamed with COPS Metro Alliance and rallied to push the district to make a deal with the city to raze the structure, allowing the campus with growing enrollment more space.
The building hasn’t been in use since 1998. Water seeped into the structure causing damage, bricks cracked, and the building took on a dilapidated appearance. Parents expressed safety concerns about it and asked why it couldn’t be torn down to allow more outdoor space for the kids.
On Wednesday, construction equipment roared and the building began to crumble.
“It was the first thing I asked about when I became principal,” said Laryn Nelson, who assumed the campus leadership role in 2016. “There will finally be green space for sports. Our teams never had a place to practice. PE will have space for the fitness test, finally.”
The demolition process could take up to a week, depending on what the demolition crews encounter as they work. The district assured Nelson that the site would be open for use by the time school starts in early August.
“It may not be green, but it’ll be space, and then the grass will grow in,” Nelson said.
SAISD Trustee Christina Martinez and district staff will work with the community to decide what to do next with the area. They can keep it as is, or make some updates, but they’ll need community input first, she said.
Joyce Hernandez-Kelley’s 6-year-old daughter Kyra, could hardly sleep the night before in anticipation of seeing her hard work pushing for the demolition come to fruition: attending school meetings, Historic and Design Review Commission meetings, and City Council meetings.
“My daughter said that it was her accomplishment, and she really felt some ownership over it,” Hernandez-Kelley said.
Hernandez-Kelley, Kyra, and many other families and students had been working for this moment for the last 18 months. In January 2018, parents and COPS Metro organized a meeting to ask elected officials to either find the money to renovate the dilapidated structure or demolish it. When families felt it was clear there wasn’t money for renovations, they demanded demolition.
However, the HDRC voted to designate the building historically significant last November. Ultimately, SAISD made a deal with the City to move forward with demolition while agreeing to introduce curriculum on the history and culture of San Antonio.
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The students who attended the late night meetings, made signs to hold up at press conferences, and asked their parents about when there would be more space, also felt some joy as the first bricks started to fall.
“I think maybe it will look like leftover crumbs after,” first grader Vida said.
“That’s for when you have sandwiches, this will be leftover bricks, and then grass,” her friend Kyra advised.
Both whooped and squealed, joining in on chants of “Let’s get ready to crumble,” as construction crews went about their work.