Protesters prepare for the press conference outside of St. Anne Catholic Church.
Beacon Hill parents, supported by the COPS Metro Alliance, call for the demolition of the 1915 campus building. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

After years of uncertainty surrounding a neglected building on the Beacon Hill Academy campus in San Antonio Independent School District, a movement crystalized this week in favor of demolishing the structure.

Following Academy parents’ call to raze the old building in a Friday rally, SAISD trustee Christina Martinez (D6) announced the board would vote on filing a demolition permit request with the City at its upcoming meeting on July 23.

But if trustees vote in favor of applying for the permit, they may face some resistance from City officials who on Monday requested a cost estimate for renovations.

The building at 1411 W. Ashby Pl. has stood vacant for close to two decades and is in rough shape with decayed wood framing, cracks in the brick exterior, and interior water damage. The structure’s fate represents a broader debate about historic buildings in San Antonio: should officials demolish and make way for new construction or renovate and rework the existing space?

SAISD officials have estimated a complete renovation would cost between $5 million and $6 million, while demolition would run roughly $300,000. District spokeswoman Leslie Price in April said the district has no need for the building.

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

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) has advocated for renovation, presenting in March conceptual images of what that might look like, and indicating the structure would be eligible for historic designation. In February, he recommended several funding mechanisms that would contribute to the renovation cost including historic preservation tax credits.

Previously, parents asked SAISD and the City to find a path forward through either demolition or renovation. On Friday, however, parents decisively called for the building’s demolition.

“Our kids learn and play in the shadow of chain-link fences and crumbling walls,” parent Jacklyn Landaverde said. “With 30 days left before school starts, we are tired of waiting.”

Martinez, whose trustee district includes Beacon Hill, committed to standing with students on Friday, saying demolition “is the only step in the right direction.” She told the Rivard Report that trustees will vote on if and when the district would file for a demolition permit at its July 23 board meeting. The City would still have to grant the permit.

On Monday, the City’s Office of Historic Preservation and Treviño requested a cost estimate for a building renovation. OHP spokeswoman Ximena Copa-Wiggins said this process would likely take “a couple of weeks,” but is already being worked on.

Beacon Hill parents characterized the cost estimate as a way to hinder action.

“Why is this happening now?” Landaverde asked. “…It is hard not to see it as one more strategy to delay.”

Treviño’s spokesman Justin Renteria told the Rivard Report Friday that the City cannot act until SAISD files a demolition permit. At that time, SAISD would still have to secure approval from CPS Energy, OHP, and a City arborist before a demolition permit could be considered.

The last time SAISD approached this point was in 2015, when Beacon Hill area residents circulated a petition to demolish the building, and 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 the district the building was eligible for historic designation and demolition would not be approved. At the time, OHP did not find evidence of significant structural deficiencies.

A limited structural evaluation prepared for OHP at the end of May indicates little may have changed in the past three years. The report describes the face brick as being in “excellent quality” and the overall building as in “no danger of collapse.”

“It is our opinion that Beacon Hill Elementary School #22 is repairable,” the report concludes.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the Rivard Report.