The historical African American Phillis Wheatley High School has a slight reprieve for now as the community and Houston Independent School district are at a standstill due to a court – ordered mediation about the unwanted demolition of the school.
Historical preservation is being called for throughout the city of Houston this summer as Wheatley alumni and concerned citizens have sued HISD for deciding to demolish the community treasure. During a strategy meeting in Fifth Ward, alumni continuously expressed their upset that HISD would take bond money to tear down the school.
“I sure hate they are tearing all our stuff down,” said Gail Nelson, a native of Fifth Ward who happened to stop and look at the giant hole on the side of Wheatley. “Why are they tearing it down? They built a whole new school so what are they going to do with that?”
Nelson’s reaction echoes many other community members and alumni thoughts, they want to know why.
During the election season in 2012, the HISD bond proposed many renovation and new school projects for campuses throughout the district. Along that time, Houstonians could drive pass schools throughout the city and see huge bond signs with an enormous money amount on it, promising better for the community schools. The only problem is the illusion on the bond signs did not match up to the fine print on the official election order. This is what has Wheatley supporters in court. That fine print called for demolition, which was not submitted to voters, before, during or after the vote.
“Once again HISD has proven not to be an entity of their word, they actually back door the whole bond referendum process by adding the demolition of the historic site, in very small print as an agenda item for a board meeting a few months ago,” said Loretta Brock, an education activist.
The outrage caused the Wheatley/E.O. Smith Preservationist Coalition to stand up to HISD to stop the demolition of the site although on Labor Day a wrecking ball tore a huge hole in the side of the historical structure.
“They came like a thief in the night,” said Kathy Blueford-Daniels, a Wheatley alum and active member of the coalition. “On Saturday evening we had a meeting with HISD and we agreed that they would wait until Tuesday to do anything and the trustee would go back to HISD and let them know what we discussed. The next day we were getting calls and text that they were knocking holes in the building. They did it in the area we had just talked about salvaging for historic purpose.”
On September 2nd, the Coalition sued HISD.
As of now the demolition is on hiatus as Judge Elizabeth Ray ordered both parties to engage in mediation. They have not reached an agreement and have been placed under a “gag order” according to the E.O. Smith/Wheatley Preservation Coalition’s statement.
Phillis Wheatley High School is a historic treasure to the Fifth Ward community. Built in 1929 it was the only school African American children could attend. It later became E.O. Smith Middle School while carrying on the traditions of the original Wheatley.