City of Austin could save historic Montopolis Negro School

The city of Austin will discuss the possibility of purchasing the Montopolis School for Negro Children for historic preservation. (KXAN Photo/ Sean Farrar. )
The city of Austin will discuss the possibility of purchasing the Montopolis School for Negro Children for historic preservation. (KXAN Photo/ Sean Farrar. )

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The man who owns the property which houses the historic Montopolis Negro School tells KXAN he is willing to work with the city of Austin who wants to purchase the property for preservation.

A site supporting the preservation of the school refers to it as “the last remaining Freedman’s school in this part of Texas.” The school was founded in 1891 on Bastrop Highway. After a storm destroyed the church in 1935, it was relocated to Montopolis Drive.

Austin Stowell, a real estate broker and owner of the property, said the school operated until 1962 and then operated as a church until the late 1980s. It has been vacant since then.

“Ultimately it comes down to whether the intent of this property should be private use — which it currently is — or public use,” he said. “And at this point the mayor’s office has reached out to us, and we’re excited to work with them to potentially negotiate a sale to the city so that they can find a resolution that is a win-win that ultimately gives some of the members of the community what they want — a public space.”

Stowell acquired the property in in March of 2015. Then in December of 2016, Stowell said he acquired a demolition permit for the property after the Historic Landmark Commission failed to reach the threshold of zoning the property as historic.

He refers the property as, “mummified,” explaining that the building has been sheathed in aluminum which helps to preserve it.

Stowell said the intention was never to demolish the property.

“Ultimately our goal is to seek a historic zoning category other than single family to preserve the structure in an adaptive reuse in something like office or event space,” he said. “There’s a substantial group within the community like the Neighborhood Planning Contact Team that opposes any use of the site other than as a museum or a park.”

Stowell said this is the first time he’s seen a situation in which the community has so vehemently wanted to maintain the structure as a public space.

Mayor Steve Adler’s office told Stowell they have an item on the council agenda for Sept. 28 to authorize the city manager to negotiate a potential purchase. Adler said money for this property could come from historic preservation dollars or from the Hotel Occupancy Tax. He explained it could be part of the existing budget funding or as part of the downtown puzzle which could turn up additional preservation money.

“Our history as a community is real important and as we increasingly lose historic spaces, we don’t get those back. I think it’s important to preserve the visual places for our cities,” Adler said.

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