Group accuses AISD of exaggerating unsafe conditions at Brown Elementary

Austin ISD Brown Elementary School
Austin ISD Brown Elementary School (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Travis County Taxpayers Union is asking the Austin Independent School District to halt the demolition plans for T.A. Brown Elementary School.

TCTU Director and former Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman wants a second opinion on the structural condition of the foundation, after an engineer’s report uncovered structural problems in November of 2016, and led the district to make the call to close the campus for the remainder of the school year.

“I think it was political theater and I don’t appreciate it,” said Zimmerman.

He told KXAN he has reason to suspect the engineering studies performed by AECOM exaggerated claims of structural deterioration on the campus, and possibly other facilities, for the political motivation of gaining voter sympathy and support for a potential November 2017 bond.

“We need help from the trustees to say, ‘Wait a minute, you guys step aside — district employees step aside and let somebody else independently go in and look at it,”‘ said Zimmerman.

The group, who has a history of fighting school bond elections, says they have filed an extensive public information request asking for detailed engineering studies, and communication between AISD’s chief financial officer and engineers.

KXAN sat down with the AECOM project manager, Matias Segura, to ask if AISD ever put pressure on he or his staff to make building conditions appear worse than they were.

“Absolutely not. There has been absolutely no influence on anything that we have developed,” said Segura. “We are professional engineers. I work for the largest infrastructure company in the world. We do not take these things lightly, and everything we’ve done has been mindful of the issues we have identified.”

Segura and his staff were the ones who recommended the closure of T.A. Brown. “I would absolutely do it again 100 percent,” said Segura.

Chris Garcia had a daughter at the campus when it was closed. “It’s sad that it’s turned into a political fiasco,” said Garcia who has always had questions about the original inspection. “We definitely would love to have the second opinion because the school is already there. If they can repair it, it would be less costly.”

Zimmerman is asking the district to halt demolition until another engineer can take a look.

“I have to find somebody who’s retired, doesn’t have a dog in the hunt,” said Zimmerman. “And if I can find that person, I’m going to go back to the district trustees and say let us go in there.”

TCTU’s requests come days before the AISD school board is set to vote on calling a November 2017 bond election, which would likely include money to build a new campus for T.A. Brown Elementary.

KXAN reached out the AISD school board president, and the district, which is closed on Fridays in the summer, and have not heard back.

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