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Beaumont Heritage Society starts legal battle to stop South Park demolition


By EMILY GUEVARA
July 3, 2009
Posted: June 30, 2009, 7:35 PM CDT Last updated: July 3, 2009, 1:33 PM CDT

The proposed demolition of South Park Middle School could hit a roadblock if the efforts of a local organization succeed.

The Beaumont Heritage Society today will request a temporary restraining order against the Beaumont Independent School District, according to attorney Michael Getz, who is filing the legal paperwork on behalf of the group. The restraining order could be the first in a series of legal steps to stop the demolition of the 86-year-old schoolhouse.

"BISD has not addressed any of the concerns. They have not answered any of the questions and so they've forced us to take legal action to be recognized," said Darlene Chodzinski, heritage society executive director.

Chodzinski contends that the district ignored more than 3,000 names on petitions signed by those opposed to the demolition of South Park, located at 4500 Highland Ave.

"It was built in 1922," Chodzinski said by phone. "It does have a Texas State Historical Marker on it, and more importantly, it is the significance of the building to so many people in this community that attended school there and graduated from there."

But Beaumont school board president Woodrow Reece said Tuesday that the board had asked those interested in keeping the school to get involved. The only viable way to do that, he added, was to purchase the building because BISD had no further use for it if a new school was built.

Chodzinski said the heritage society board decided several months ago to try to halt the demolition of the structure, set to begin in September, according to a construction schedule posted on BISD's Web site. A Parsons project manager suggested it would be taken down in late July or August.

Jessie Haynes, special assistant to the superintendent, said the district did receive the petitions, but that the 3,000 signatures did not all represent people who lived in the BISD area. Signatures came from people who lived all over the U.S., she said.

A town hall meeting at the middle school last November drew more than 300 students, teachers and parents, the majority of whom fully supported the demolition plans, according to previous Enterprise coverage.

Haynes said the board went with a decision based on what the community wanted.

"There were so many angles that were considered early on, and at the time there was not an organization that was willing to take over the old facility," Haynes said by phone Tuesday.

"So throughout the process of the public hearing, the research, and talking to people, the best thing that came up was to build a new South Park and, if at all possible, to incorporate some historical perspective in the new facility."

The building is stately, demanding attention from people driving down Highland Avenue. A white staircase accents the main entrance and three stories of dark windows dot the brick facade.

The building has had many uses. From 1915 to 1986, it was South Park High School, serving the school district and community for which it was named, according to the Save South Park Web site and Enterprise records.

In 1983, Jefferson County commissioners attached the dissolved Beaumont Independent School District to South Park ISD, which later was renamed Beaumont ISD, according to Enterprise archives. In 1986, the school board voted to make South Park a middle school and send its students to West Brook High School, the archives state. In 1988, the building received its historical marker, according to the Save South Park Web site.

The real draw for its many alumni is something beyond architecture and history, said Sherry Sharp, a 1965 graduate. It's the intangibles that make this building special to those who have known its halls.

"It's the way we were raised, I guess," said Sharp, 62, who no longer lives in South Park but has her roots there. "There's just a brotherhood, a camaraderie, a unity we have from being there. It was just a wonderful place to grow up."

Chodzinski said by requesting this restraining order and ultimately an injunction, the organization is not saying that the building should continue to be used as a school. Rather, they are asking that the building not be demolished.

"The only thing that we are doing is trying to preserve the building and keep it from being lost," she said by phone.

More:

Save South Park Web site, http://savesouthpark.org/

Beaumont ISD Bond Information, http://www.bmtisd.com/bond/

South Park demolition

The opposition to the demolition of South Park Middle School began even before the plan to demolish it was in place.

According to an article that ran March 19, 2007, in The Enterprise, 1965 alumna Sherry Sharp and the Class of '69 grad Miriam Cade Nichol started gathering signatures in opposition to the "proposed demolition of South Park Middle School" before it was even on the table.

The alumni told The Enterprise at the time that they just wanted to be prepared and make sure demolition wasn't even a possibility.

Two studies have shown South Park to be in bad condition. The first, performed by Houston consultant 3DI listed South Park in "poor condition" along with nine elementary schools, five middle schools and one high school, according to a previous Enterprise story.

A second study performed solely on South Park by CSF Engineers of Houston showed that renovating the building would cost significantly more than building a new one.

Demolition is not expected to begin until late July or early August, Menefee said, but bond issue information sets a September date.

Comments:

Angel baby wrote:
I guess anything would be better than those horrible portable buildings they make the kids go to class in now. BISD what a joke, we pay Carroll more money than he is worth and we make our kids go to school in portable buildings. We must be the laughing stock of all the area school districts. I say send Carroll up the river, he is a waste of our tax money.
07/07/2009 09:50 PM CDT


Lab Rat wrote:
Nobody's asking anyone to live in the past. We are asking them to help preserve a landmark building with a fine proud history. That is not living in the past. It just means you don't have to throw away the 'old' in order to have an excuse to build 'new'. As far as your statement that Beaumont is stagnant and stale........man, you can blow sunshine up the mayor's butt all day and night and Beaumont will still be a oil town first and a tourism town last, So, what we can preserve in Beaumont is saved to the pleasure of a much smaller group than say.....the entire state of Texas as it references The Alamo. Sarcasm? What's that? And, another thing.........I'll just meet you behind Highland Ave. Pharmacy after school and show you at least five fingers of immaturity balled up into a fist. But, seriously......history IS worth preserving. BISD has a golden opportunity to save a majestic structure. Once it's gone, it's gone forever. I too hope we have good fortune in saving this landmark. We'd like to count on your support in our effort. Hope you had a nice 4th.
07/06/2009 02:32 AM CDT


Interested Bystander wrote:
No LabRat, I did not dig my school's grave. If your school can be saved , great. I hope the injunction will stall the demolition of the building and the Greenies can save the Alamo of Beaumont.You are one of the reasons Beaumont is stagnant and stale. I am not apathetic. I just refuse to live in the past. My high school is no longer in Beaumont. As far as taking a long walk on a short pier it seems you are still living the life of an immature high school student. Good luck to you. Sarcasm is a sign of intelligence!
07/03/2009 10:28 PM CDT


Lab Rat wrote:
That's right 'interested bystander'. All you have of your school is memories. Did you have a hand in digging it's grave too? Greenies believe in saving history. Obviously you could care less. Apathy will get you nowhere. Sarcasm is your best attribute. Go take a long walk on a short pier. Thanks in advance.
07/03/2009 10:20 PM CDT


kristiana wrote:
Save South Park and get rid of Carroll Thomas and the rest of his cartel. They're about as trustworthy as a group of politicians. Other cities have sold old schools to private owners who turned them into wonderful apartments. I could envision apartments and shops in the South Park Bldg. or as someone said, meeting rooms and community center. The possibilities are endless. This is a beautiful bldg. and should be preserved. If it's in such bad shape, it's because BISD has been very poor stewards of school property, including South Park and Amelia which, sadly, has already met its fate, since Beaumont regretfully hired Thomas. BISD has put appearance above substance. It's about time Beaumont, and Texas as a whole, grew up and stopped lagging so far behind the rest of the country in just about every aspect, including preservation, conservation and recycling.
07/03/2009 06:13 PM CDT


Sherry Sharp wrote:
Thank you, Emily, for making the following clarification to the original article where you said that" BISD absorbed" SP," which I had pointed out to you in Comments was misleading. I do wish you had included the fact that the "new" board was comprised of a majority of the old BISD people, which is an interesting fact. (updated version) "In 1983, Jefferson County commissioners attached the dissolved Beaumont Independent School District to South Park ISD, which later was renamed Beaumont ISD, according to Enterprise archives. In 1986, the school board voted to make South Park a middle school and send its students to West Brook High School, the archives state. In 1988, the building received its historical marker, according to the Save South Park Web site." Readers, here is the link to the referenced archive. Please read it. http://sherrysharp.com/southpark/history/death.htm Again, just for accuracy's sake, the quotation is from the Houston Chronicle, not the Enterprise.
07/03/2009 02:45 PM CDT


Interested Bystander wrote:
Oh my goodness. I can see it now. We can make South Park a historical building and each year tens and tens of tourists will flock to the South Park area to visit. People can set up snow cone stands and sell coonskin caps ( no reference of course to Davy Crockett) . Imagine the money making potential!! Any former Greenies want to invest in my endeavor??? Oh, I get it. You just want to save the school but don't want to put your money where your big mouths are! Let them have their bricks, auditorium seats, toilet seats, whatever. I have wonderful memories of my high school years that have absolutely nothing to do with a building. My memories are of the people that crossed my life. Get over it and move on!
07/03/2009 08:19 AM CDT


Lab Rat wrote:
It's political. The old South Park High School building stands as a reminder to BISD of their insolvency era and who saved them from a ugly demise. WestBrook or Forest Park posed no threat to BISD because their building is more modern in style and doesn't represent the grande artistry that the SP building has. It is more important to BISD to tear down what is most beautiful and masterful. It's political hatred. Nothing more.
07/02/2009 09:39 PM CDT


Mamagistra wrote:
For the record, 3DI also declared West Brook to be in poor condition. Where are the calls for its destruction? http://www.beaumont.k12.tx.us/info/BISD%20Facility%20Assessment%20Total%20Deficiency%20Ranking.pdf
07/02/2009 01:47 PM CDT


Lab Rat wrote:
As long as South Park's building is still standing proud, it's never too late. Never surrender.
07/02/2009 01:26 PM CDT


PJ wrote:
I applaud the historical society for the effort, but too little, too late, I'm afraid. This mentality of new is better has had stranglehold on our educational leaders for decades, not just Thomas' tenure. Whether due to court orders, economics, racial pandering, whatever, the closing of so many high schools (BHS, CPS, Hebert, Forrest Park, French, SP) in Beaumont to consolidate into just three mega-schools was a huge mistake in the first place. By warehousing children instead of preserving neighborhood schools, Beaumont lost a wealth of alumni base support. Changing the name to Central HS, for instance, lost the loyalty of many successful Beaumont HS alumni who could be tapped for community support, invaluable to a child's education. But this is water under the bridge now. When will we wake up and realize that bigger, newer, and changing the name is not always better when it comes to the education of our kids? "It takes a village to raise a child" may sound may sound cliche, but it is true. You'll never see Kelly change its name or mascot, because the papists know what alumni dollars can do for a school.
07/02/2009 10:01 AM CDT


Lab Rat wrote:
Exactly minnie. Exactly.
07/01/2009 10:33 PM CDT


minnie wrote:
if beaumont dont save and preserve history there be no need for new schools the new buildings i hear or going to be modular not like old old one we have now. prserve history save south park the new scholls will become ghost buidlingif this town dont creat something to keep people her. The buidling is history and history it is waht we study in schooll do your research pe0ple.lots of important people also came from south park. bisd could not support its school district that is why they disolved in and athentookover southpark only to destory the town of beaumon. save south park like the heritage society says donthave to be a school.
07/01/2009 07:13 PM CDT


GREENIE 1969 wrote:
I applaud everybody who is writing their views about SP. SP was a community where everybody kept in touch with each other. We have collected over 3300 petitions and the biggest majority is from SP area.That right there tells you that South Park High School (South Park Middle School ) should STAND.
07/01/2009 12:31 PM CDT


bmtbrd wrote:
BISD's excuse about petitions being from outside BISD area is more than lame at best. The vast majority of those petitions came from LOCAL petition drives and LOCAL PEOPLE signing petitions in every LOCAL business in SOUTH PARK -- not even the rest of the town. That just proves that BISD didn't pay the petitions any mind whatsoever! They obviously thumbed through, saw a few out-of-towners and decided to nullify the whole stack. But besides that, what's wrong with people from out of town wanting to preserve the building. That's what draws people to a town is to have something to visit, to appreciate and enjoy. That's what HISTORICAL BUILDINGS are usually for.
07/01/2009 09:54 AM CDT


oldlady wrote:
So much has been said--most quite true. One doesn't need to live in Beaumont to remember and desire that those memories remain for future generations to enjoy. We've already destroyed too much of local beauty: lovely old homes on Calder Avenue between 11th Street and downtown; Beaumont High School as it was "in the day" is now unidentifiable since buildings were added to its sides and front. And now, someone's personal agenda demands that SPHS be demolished. SHAME ON YOU! That building means a lot to Beaumont's history as well as to the hearts of the thousands who graduated there over the years. Signatures on that petition represent all of us, not just present residents. Has Lamar University expressed any interest in purchasing the building? Or has it even been discussed with them? It seems that, because the building is part of Lamar's history, too, there could be some effort at preservation, or even to use the building. In any case, I hope the BISD board will look beyond those personal agendas and do what is right for the area. There is plenty of land on that property on which to build a new school; it doesn't have to include demolition of SPHS.
07/01/2009 06:59 AM CDT


Sherry Sharp wrote:
Emily, the part about "South Park was absorbed by the Beaumont Independent School District about that time" is a bit misleading. "Lab Rat" explained this history well in the comment below. But I would like to supplement that reply with an excert from the Houston Chronicle, Jan 1986, that you referenced that is on my website, emphasizing, for completeness' sake, that the conclusion was not that BISD "absorbed" SP. It was the other way around. SPISD was the lifeline to BISD. Many of your readers may not be familiar with this history. Excerpts from the Houston Chronicle, Jan 1986 The South Park and Beaumont school districts became one in 1983. The first consolidation effort failed when Beaumont district voters approved consolidation and South Park residents rejected it. At that time South Park property owners paid 20 cents per $100 valuation less in school taxes than residents of the financially strapped Beaumont district. Beaumont district residents then voted their school district out of existence. It then became a common school district under the control of the Jefferson County Commissioners Court. A few minutes after the county commissioners canvassed the dissolution vote, they attached the old Beaumont district to the South Park District. A new voting plan was adopted, including the first single-member school trustee districts in Beaumont, and after the next board election the school board was dominated by former Beaumont district patrons. The new board renamed the South Park district the Beaumont Independent School District. ... Also, Mamagistra, you are correct that the building was built in 1923. 1915 was the first year that South Park became an accredited school. (Origins of South Park on the website).

07/01/2009 12:49 AM CDT


Town Cryer wrote:
We south parkers do love our history.The memories of our youth swim in the history in South Park's School.. Could that be why songs, and cars from that era are so popular still today. The school has already been designated historical, what else do you need to prove it has value. Beaumont should showcase her proudly and set a gracious example for students today. I wonder if the students today will be so enamored of their school they will actually have feelings for it somday. I have to say it doesn't look promising. Values must be taught. We learned that lesson well at South Park . Did they teach that anywhere else? .
07/01/2009 12:38 AM CDT


Lab Rat wrote:
EXCELLENT post 'Mamagistra'. EXCELLENT post. Something else to consider is that the SP building has held up to the tests of Rita, Humberto and most recently Ike. Tearing something down for the sake of building something new in it's place makes no sense. If San Antonio had done that..........we really WOULD have to remember the Alamo. Why not learn from the past in order to preserve the present for the future? Or is that concept foreign to BISD?
06/30/2009 11:32 PM CDT


Mamagistra wrote:
The South Park building has been in continuous use since 1923 (not 1915 as this report says). Also, please note that what the so-called second report by CSF Engineering said is this: South Park has "[n]o signs of excessive structural distress." Yet it continues: "‚?¶difficult to accomplish if the choice is made to renovate the buildings. It is also ***possible*** (emphasis mine) that the layout and configurations of the buildings are no longer adequate to efficiently serve the needs of the School District. Due to the age of the buildings combined with the lack of accurate as-built construction plans, it ***seems*** (emphasis mine) that it would be in the School District‚??s best interest to pursue the construction of a new school building as opposed to renovation of the existing buildings.‚?Ě Oh really? I quite presume it would be in the engineering firm's best interest for the building to be razed. This information comes directly from the BISD website. Also directly from the BISD website comes the flyer for the supposedly well-attended Town Hall Meeting held at South Park in November, 2008. Strangely enough, no one else in Beaumont seems to have been notified of that meeting. Consequently, the only side heard by the district was the one it wanted to hear. The time is now to correct the crooked path taken by those in Beaumont who would see city history razed and forgotten. South Park is a true landmark, both for its neighborhood and for Beaumont as a whole. We must all stand proudly against those who would see her sturdy walls in shambles. Save South Park. LET HER STAND!
06/30/2009 10:36 PM CDT


Lab Rat wrote:
If history is worth teaching it's worth preserving. BISD allowed the building to get into the condition it's in. It didn't receive the same kind of maintenance that Central HS main building received over the years. Why? Vengeance. BISD was attached to South Park ISD years ago by court order. Then former BISD school board members overwhelmingly voted themselves back into power. They then set out to rename the combined school districts back to BISD. And, from that point on they began to dismantle any and all former South Park landmark buildings. Now they want the crown jewel of the South Park ISD. If the building is torn down then it's only fair that the main building at Central suffer the same fate. Fair and balanced. But, BISD has never had any concern for anything other than...again.....vengeance toward SPISD. If they hadn't overpaid their headmaster 'King' Thomas then perhaps there would have been enough funding to keep up proper maintenance on the South Park building over the years. So what if the building has a few pests. Would you tear down your house if you had them? How about calling in a pest control company for starters? Then how about keeping up with repairs and not redirect funds elsewhere in the district? For those who still want to tear down South Park for the sake of vengeance.......I wish a plague, shame and calamity on your households. You deserve nothing less. If it weren't for South Park saving BISD there wouldn't be a BISD today. Again......if history is worth teaching......show you can walk the walk and not just do the talk. Preserve South Park's building.
06/30/2009 10:27 PM CDT
__________________________

NOTICE

(By Sherry)
Emily Guevara, did indeed edit her article about the SP "absorbed" by BISD statement. Apparently, besides my correction in Comments, others honed in on that fallacy and also contacted her. She did not email me of the change, nor was there any public acknowledgement. You would think the edited was the original. When a friend also wrote her about the falsehood, she wrote back to that person and said: "The Web site has been updated with a corrected version of the story. I apologize for the error as I know that this is a sensitive issue for those involved." -- no pubic acknowledgement.

original pgh that was published in the paper, as well as online: "South Park was absorbed by the Beaumont Independent School District about that time, and the high school's students went to West Brook. The old building was turned into a middle school and in 1988, it received its historical marker, according to the Web site."

edited pgh:
"In 1983, Jefferson County commissioners attached the dissolved Beaumont Independent School District to South Park ISD, which later was renamed Beaumont ISD, according to Enterprise archives. In 1986, the school board voted to make South Park a middle school and send its students to West Brook High School, the archives state. In 1988, the building received its historical marker, according to the Save South Park Web site." (very careful wording, don't you think???)

Of a more personal note, when Emily interviewed me via telephone, she asked me a direct question about the old neighborhood, etc, and I indeed told her the sweet memories type statement she printed. But in the same breath, I said "BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY THAN THE MEMORIES" is the historic value, the economic sense, etc, etc -- but she completely left any of that out and made me sound like only a nostalgic neurotic! I didn't confront her on that, though I should have.