Houston Independent School District’s Board of Education voted this morning to accept a mediated agreement that calls for the demolition of the original Phillis Wheatley/E.O. Smith school while incorporating decorative elements from the historic building into the new Mickey Leland Preparatory Academy for Young Men, to be built on the site.
The settlement was reached after community leaders in the Fifth Ward filed suit to stop the school district from razing the historic building at 1700 Gregg Street. Members of the Historic Wheatley/E.O. Smith Preservation Coalition advocated for the renovation of the historic school building and believed they had reached a verbal agreement with HISD to renovate. They initiated legal action against HISD only after the school district began demolishing the building on the Sunday morning before Labor Day.
The mediated agreement stipulates HISD will spend no more than $1 million to redesign the new school in an architectural style similar to the original Wheatley building. The design will incorporate existing elements from the historic façade and use as much reclaimed material as possible. The settlement also calls for the creation of a “grand hallway” to reflect the history and legacy of the Phillis Wheatley/E.O. Smith school.
Your membership support of Preservation Houston allowed staff members to work with both parties on this issue. Preservation Houston requested that HISD allow PH the opportunity to bring in an independent structural engineer trained in historic preservation to evaluate the school. PH staff members attended and spoke at Wheatley Preservation Coalition meetings and school board meetings and wrote letters to the HISD superintendent and trustees to outline the benefits of reusing the historic school.
In an encouraging development, HISD Board President Juliet Stipeche stated she would recommend that HISD administration include preservation professionals early in the design process for historic schools. Preservation Houston’s letter to Superintendent Terry Grier and the HISD trustees noted that it is much easier for Preservation Houston to assist at the outset of a project, as PH did at Kirksey Architecture’s request during the planning for Milby High School’s renovation.