Structural damage closes Brown Elementary for the school year

Concrete floor damage to T.A. Brown Elementary School in Austin (AISD Photo)
Concrete floor damage to T.A. Brown Elementary School in Austin (AISD Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — T.A. Brown Elementary will likely remain closed for the school year after an engineer’s report uncovered structural problems at the 59-year-old North Austin school. Officials said it would not be feasible to make repairs, which would also pose a risk to contractors, so the current building will never reopen.

Thursday night, the district abruptly cancelled Friday classes at the school, citing the structural concerns.

Starting Wednesday, the 360 students who attend Brown, located on West Anderson Lane near North Lamar Boulevard, will be relocated to two other AISD sites.

Students in Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten will go to Reilly Elementary, located about two miles south of Brown. First through fifth grades will go to the school district’s Allan Facility, located in East Austin, almost 8 miles by road from Brown.

Brenda Boone’s three-year-old grandson attends Brown as a Pre-K student. Boone told KXAN driving him to Reilly will be an inconvenience, but says that’s not her biggest concern.

“My concern is the little one. He doesn’t do very well with change,” said Boone. “We don’t know how he’s going to respond. How will he understand? Is he given the same teacher? We know it’s not the same classroom.”

The mother of four children, Boone said she bought her house close to Brown Elementary decades ago so that her four children, now grown adults, could walk there. She said Friday that her family has been crying since they learned about its closing. “I love that school. That school will always be a part of my heart. It’s been an emotional day, to say the least.”

Boone says she doesn’t know what the future looks like for her grandchildren or the school. In her opinion, the best option is building a brand new school where Brown currently stands.

Saturday, AISD will meet with parents and staff members to explain the specifics of the big move. The meeting is not open to the public.

The average age of AISD facilities is 40 years. Last month, AISD school leaders revealed report cards on each of its buildings. They warned that without additional funds, the buildings would continue to crumble. The last structural assessment of Brown resulted in a poor grade for ceiling and wall finishes and doors. The same report showed an average grade for floor finishes and walls.

Austin’s aging schools

KXAN News analyzed all of the report cards on building conditions released by the Austin Independent School District. The analysis found the main buildings of 16 schools have lower scores than Brown Elementary, prior to the recent discovery of the major structural issues. Brown’s score is expected to be revised and lowered.

The school with the lowest score in the records was Lucy Read Pre-K School, which had a score of 18 out of 100. Brown Elementary had a score of 40 before the issues that shut it down were uncovered. Martin Middle SchoolWilliams Elementary SchoolPecan Springs Elementary School, and Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders have some of the lowest scores.

“I think we’re going to look at every single one. We’re looking at safety. We’re looking at educational environment,” said AISD Superintendent Dr. Paul Cruz, speaking about AISD schools in general.

The building condition scores take into account maintenance and repair costs along with the value of replacing the building. A low score does not necessarily mean the buildings are unsafe. In fact, the exact problems at Brown are not likely present at other Austin schools. An engineer with P.E. Structural Consultants, Anna Boenig, says 60 AISD schools have similar crawlspaces to the one at Brown and inspectors have now examined all of them. None had problems as bad as the issues at Brown.

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