T.A. Brown Elementary School was closed indefinitely on Friday after an assessment of the building’s crawl spaces uncovered extensive damage to the concrete floor beneath the classroom wings, cafeteria and administrative offices.
At a news conference on Friday, Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz explained that, as part of the Facilities Master Plan, the district has been in the process of examining each school site to determine educational feasibility and building conditions.
Once the damage at T.A. Brown was discovered during an inspection conducted in mid-October, a report was submitted to the school district late last week. This morning, Cruz made the call to close the school without any future plans to reopen.
“Our consultants and engineers found that some of the flooring was not what it needed to be to continue instruction at the school,” he explained. “We want to make sure all of our students and staff members are safe and that we have the most information available to us to make sure our learning environments are conducive to learning and to safety.”
For the remainder of the school year, Brown’s 360 students will be relocated to two different sites based on grade level. Children in pre-K and kindergarten, as well as students in special units, will be placed at Reilly Elementary School, while students in grades one through five will be relocated to the Allan Elementary School campus, a facility currently used to house Child, Inc. Childcare Center as well as some of the district’s other partners.
“We want to make sure learning continues, but it has to be a safe environment,” Cruz said. “Until that is so, we have to make these changes for our students at T.A. Brown.”
Anna Boenig of P.E. Structural Consultants, Inc., explained that although there was no immediate danger to the students at T.A. Brown, the circumstances were imminent enough to precipitate an indefinite closure.
“It’s possible that some type of incident could happen relatively soon, which is why we recommended the district take action now to be on the extra safe side,” she said.
In a facility conditions assessment performed earlier this year, T.A. Brown was assigned a score of 40, which falls into the unsatisfactory range, but is not failing. Of the 130 AISD school sites, 51 are rated as unsatisfactory. Given the structural deficiencies discovered this month, that score is expected to fall into the high 20s, according to Matias Segura, senior advisor of AECOM engineering firm, making it the lowest scoring facility in the district.
Boenig attributed the damage at T.A. Brown to age and water damage. T.A. Brown was built in 1957, making it 59 years old. The average age for a facility in AISD is 40 years old.
The extent of the damage is so severe that Boenig and her team recommended the school be permanently closed.
“We don’t recommend this be repaired at all,” she said. “It would not be feasible, because the damage is in every single beam in some areas, and it would be a hazard for any contractor trying to work under there.”
Cruz said that the fate of other low-scoring schools could also be on the line, and will be subject to the results of new information and discussions with campus advisory councils.
“We will make our decisions based on information and data; it will not be speculation, it will be very specific,” Cruz said. “This process doesn’t end today. It will continue, and we will look at all of our facilities. As things come up we are going to take it one school at a time, to make sure those facilities are safe and adequate for our kids so they can learn.”
As for T.A. Brown, students will continue with their normal programming and teachers. According to Principal Veronica Sharp, the intent is to ensure the transition is positive for the students
“This building does not define us,” she said. “The transitions will be positive and our local partners are accepting our children and opening their arms to us.”
School will resume for T.A. Brown students on Wednesday at the new school sites, and a meeting will be held with staff members and parents tomorrow to explain the specifics involved in the process. At this time, the incident does not influence attendance zones. Long-term plans for where to place the students will be made by the AISD board of trustees.