West residents fight decision to raze historic school building

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by TODD UNGER

Bio | Email | Follow: @toddWFAA8

WFAA

Posted on July 8, 2014 at 10:09 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 9 at 10:53 AM

WEST — A recent decision to knock down the original high school building in West, Texas is drawing the ire of a growing number of citizens.

A petition is circulating; a Facebook page with more than 1,300 members has been launched; and more than 100 citizens are expected at a Wednesday night school board meeting.

"I think it's the saddest thing in the world they are doing this," said Jeanette Karlik, a 1959 graduate who moved back to town 17 years ago.

Karlik said many people in town feel the original building — constructed in 1923 — should be restored as symbol of the town's determination in wake of the 2013 fertilizer plant explosion.

The building, which was being used primarily as a middle school, suffered blown-out windows and some interior damage during the blast.

Originally, word around town was that the old high school was one of the few district buildings that could be saved.

"That is what we were told. Then we didn't hear anything for months," said former McLennan County Commissioner Joe Mashek. "Then we open up the newspaper, and right on the front page is a picture saying the school board has voted to demolish it."

That vote was taken last month.

West ISD Superintendent Dr. Marty Crawford said it would have cost close to $1.3 million just to fix the building's windows and an interior wall. Some estimates were as high as $4 million for a complete overhaul, although an earlier estimate was half that figure.

In a written statement, Crawford said the decision didn't come lightly.

"All seven trustees graduated from West when the 1923 building was the high school. Unfortunately, the District is having to navigate the complexity of insurance proceeds and federal support commitments while trying to protect our fiscal and educational covenants to current West ISD taxpayers and generations of future students."

Mashek said no one he has talked with is trying to take funds away from other projects, but rather wants to preserve the one original piece of the district that still exists after the blast.

"This building is a survivor, and I think it deserves more respect than to let this happen," he said.

A large turnout is expected at Wednesday night's school trustee meeting, where the people are expected to speak during public comment.

Mashek said his group is fully prepared to retain attorneys to try and get some type of historical designation for the building so it won't be razed.

The school board is also considering a special meeting next Tuesday to further discuss its decision.

E-mail tunger@wfaa.com

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