To Demolish or Renovate: Beacon Hill’s 1915 Campus Building In Limbo

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The Beacon Hill elementary school building constructed in 1915 is completely vacant.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The Beacon Hill Elementary School building sits vacant on the grounds of Beacon Hill Academy.

With boarded-up windows, a cracked brick facade, and rusted metal structures, the last remnants of the defunct Beacon Hill Elementary School's 1915 campus sits abandoned at 1411 West Ashby Pl.

City, school district, and neighborhood leaders are showing renewed interest in the building, which has sat vacant for decades on the same property as San Antonio Independent School District's Beacon Hill Academy, built in 1999.

A March 1 deadline looms, at which time Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) has promised to present a plan for the dilapidated building's future.

Treviño, who as a registered architect brings a passion for historic preservation to his urban core district, wants to save the building and renovate it.

Not everyone agrees with Treviño. While SAISD has not submitted a formal application to demolish the building in the last three years, the district has continued the discussion to raze the structure, and neighborhood leaders have been supportive.

In the past five years, Beacon Hill community members have called for the building's demolition, starting a petition in 2015 that garnered about 70 signatures. Signers called the old campus "an eyesore" and lamented health and safety issues that come with a century-old building.

The Beacon Hill Neighborhood is located Northwest of downtown.

Courtesy / Google Maps

The Beacon Hill neighborhood is located northwest of downtown.

In 2015, members of the Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) and the subcommittee for designation and demolition visited the structure and told SAISD officials demolition would not be approved because the building was eligible for historic designation.

Since then, the fate of the building has been in limbo. SAISD lacks City approval and the money to fund either demolition or a complete renovation.

Kamal ElHabr, SAISD's assistant superintendent of facilities planning and construction,  said renovations would require a tremendous amount of work: environmental abatement, improvements to the basement floating slab, stairwell supports, updates to the brick facade, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and more.

"There is no water, sewer, electricity, internet access in the building," he said. "New services have to be brought in from the street level from the purveyors. Quite a bit of work needs to happen in addition to the restoration work."

ElHabr said the district hasn't done a detailed cost assessment, but a complete renovation could cost between $5 million and $6 million. A teardown, on the other hand, would cost between $250,000 and $300,000.

Demolishing the 103-year-old structure would still require some work, including environmental abatements, but it wouldn't be as extensive as a restoration, ElHabr said.

"The district really has no use [for it]," ElHabr said. " The [academy]  campus is pretty self-sufficient and the reason the campus [and community members] really pushed ... to [demolish] is so the kids can have more playground."

Community leaders say that while they appreciate the historic nature of the building, they want students to have more space and be protected from the health concerns the building presents.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Former Beacon Hill Neighborhood Association President Cynthia Spielman

Former Beacon Hill Neighborhood Association President Cynthia Spielman said lead paint and asbestos tend to be problems in older buildings.

"I'm assuming that, because all of the buildings from that time period have lead paint," she said. "All of the buildings from that time period use asbestos. Living in this neighborhood, there isn't a house that doesn't have lead paint."

Beyond that, the school is undergoing a transition to become a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade academy, which would increase student enrollment.

"The school is desperate for that space," Spielman said. "They have traffic issues, they have growth issues. They are sided by a business on one side and by the railroad on the other side."

Trustee Christina Martinez, the representative for SAISD's District 6, said her priority is to hear the wishes of the academy's community.

In that vein, Martinez said she was especially pleased to see a partnership forged between the Beacon Hill Academy and COPS Metro Alliance, which resulted in a community forum held on Jan. 30. Martinez said the meeting was standing-room only.

COPS Metro, a group known for working to secure commitments, collected assurances from elected officials in attendance that action would be taken.

Martinez committed to finding avenues for funding demolition, should renovation not be feasible.

Treviño attended the meeting via FaceTime and recommitted to providing a plan for the structure by March 1. He noted that his priority is renovation, so he is studying how that effort might be financed.

"I think we can close that [funding] gap quickly," Treviño said.

One of the tools Treviño is examining are historic tax credits, he said, which can offset the cost of building rehabilitation by at least 40 percent.

In a draft of the plan Treviño sent to the Rivard Report, the OHP outlines how SAISD could take advantage of a Texas Historic Preservation Tax Credit, which would allow the district to claim 25 percent of eligible rehab costs as a tax credit. Another option, the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program would allow a 20 percent tax credit for renovation costs.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) listens to the Tobacco 21 proposal at B Session.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1).

Both of these credits would require that the structure be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to the draft document, the old Beacon Hill building is eligible for this designation and OHP could help the district get such a designation for the building.

The document also suggests potential financial support from Community Development Block Grants to assist with environmental abatement.

Finally, the plan proposes that SAISD use the space creatively. If the district wishes to keep the building, it could use it for school programming or special curricula.

"SAISD also has the option to lease or sell to a nonprofit to allow for community-based programming," the document says, listing some potential programs that could occur at the property, such as an arts after-school program, senior-youth mentoring programs, and arts programs.

Regardless of what the plan will eventually promote, Beacon Hill community members are eager to see some action.

Martinez said this anticipation comes from years of stalled discussions about the historic building. ElHabr said the district requested demolition of the building as early as the mid-1990s.

"This is a situation that has been around for years," Martinez said. "These families have been asking for action for a very long time. It is the lack of action that has been frustrating for this community."

Come March 1, if it doesn't seem like there is a plan to preserve the building, Martinez said the district should "move forward to address the concerns of that community."

22 thoughts on “To Demolish or Renovate: Beacon Hill’s 1915 Campus Building In Limbo

  1. What a shame to see a building that is an extreme safety hazard and eyesore for the community sat there vacant for years because we can’t get approval to tear it down. Ridiculous! It’s not worth saving. Please tear it down!

    • The article does not address the cost benefit of $250-300K Deno PLUS $Cost New for the space the school says they need and what it will look like are how the campus would function with or without the renovated building. Only then can you quantify the “worth” you want to see achieved.

  2. I could see the argument to renovate…who does brick work like that anymore?

    Nobody!

    You can always build a new campus, you can’t always duplicate quality hand craft like that.

    Go ahead, ask a modern day builder to spend the time and manpower to create a work of masonry on par with that….I’ll wait for the laughter to die down to the sound of no one building your building.

    Some call it an eyesore, I call it eye candy!

    • My kids’ school’s main building was built in 1889 and it’s stunning inside. Despite some changes to account for modern upgrades, the brick work, and design elements (the door hinges alone are spectacular) create a sense of history and beauty. the kids don’t always appreciate it at first, but as they learn more about Texas history they learn about the time their school was built and it takes on more meaning. Not to mention, most of these kids live in historic houses themselves so have a sense of what that means, for better or worse.

      • Well said!

        Sometimes these old buildings are what make architects in the first place.

        My mom visiting family in San Antonio as a little girl was inspired from an old home near SAC to become one.

  3. Does the cost to demolish include the extra massive costs to isolate and abate lead and asbestos generated by the demolition process? Doubt it. What about adding more newly constructed space to the 1915 building’s facade as is a common redevelopment strategy in other cities and downtown? I hope architect/councilor Trevino is considering this option. Why is it always either/or?

    • The demolition costs for buildings with lead and asbestos always take into account those items. I was thinking because it was over $40,000 that the couple $100,000 took that into account. I coukd be wrong. The article did not mention the project specifics that you did, so maybe you have more detailed knowledge of what is planned. Can you share that?

  4. There would be tremendous benefit to open space created by removal of the building. Other than the age of the building there is little of “historic” value to it. Its not architecturally appealing. Retrofitting the building would satisfy architects, but do little for the community. Open that space! Make more playground space and open green space with it. That will benefit our children and our community.

  5. I definitely think this building should be saved. We need to value and make use of our historic buildings! If we don’t, the city will end up looking like any other generic suburb – boring and with no character.

    The building, when renovated, could be a showplace, bringing accolades and attention to the school and to the neighborhood, while teaching the children to appreciate history and architecture.

  6. SAVE IT! We’ve seen Time after Time how all these abandoned former beauties are successfully restored to their former glory. Witness The Pearl! This is San Antonio – we honor our history and legacy of conservation and rehabilitation. Be creative, think outside the “strip mall” box.

  7. Save it. Houses in the Beacon Hill neighborhood are being restored. Why not the school the children attended? I was one of them. I also attended Bonham.
    What a contrast as they now stand.

  8. Shame on you SAISD for letting this building sit vacant for so many years. I can understand the concern of the community there having to see this beautiful building being neglected. An eyesore. But I refuse to let the city demolish another Historical Building of this nature. These buildings were made to last for hundreds of years with the proper maintenance and upkeep. I would love to see it revitalized and made into an art center/studio workshops etc. for that community and our city. It can be done if the SAISD and city puts their heads together. After all the SAISD just sold a large property in La Vaca area for over 14 Million Dollars. So don’t tell me they haven’t got the money.

    • That was exactly what I was about to write. Shame on SAISD for allowing this beautiful structure to be neglected for 20 years. At the very least, save the facade, as should have been done with Brackenridge High School and promised but not done for Poe Middle School. Instead, King William has had to endure the eyesore of the hideously ugly Brack building since the 1970s and Poe’s building is totally out of place for its neighborhood.

      _

  9. Placing a building on the NRHP is not a trivial decision. It generally negatively affects just about everything you do to a building, including the types of windows, paints, sealants, etc, that may be used. It sounds cool, but it can be a significant hassle.

    It’s within the school campus, so commercial development or apartments or comparisons to the Pearl are non-starters. But if SAISD owns the land/building of the nearby KIPP on Fred Road, that building could be sold and the proceeds used to renovate Beacon Hill.

    Regarding health, safety, and neighborhood eyesores – why didn’t the article mention the junkyard directly across the street from the Academy?

    The school is also not in the confines of the provided map. Nice shout-out for Chris Madrid’s via the push-pin, though. I do like a good Macho.

  10. Wth the price of property taxes paid out by residents annually in this area, this would be an affordable renovation. Make the council persons take a pay cut. We need more elementary schools in this area considering SAs continued growth, and the fact that most of our neighborhood school are innondated with overflow students from other neighborhoods.

  11. Save it! Adaptive re-use is the highest and best use of this historic building. There’s a huge open green space on the very next block that’s about to be paved as a parking lot because saisd won’t share their (Beacon Hill Elementary’s) parking lot with St. Ann’s Catholic Church on Sundays. Said lot and vacant historic building should become a public library. Saisd owned street on west end of property, also neglected, might as well be public property too.

    $5-6M to restore is ridiculous, get a second estimate- duh.

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