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Future of Historic Wheatley School Site Uncertain

Judge orders mediation for one of Houston’s oldest African-American schools.

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The fate of one of Houston’s oldest African American schools could be decided soon in mediation.

On one side is a coalition of alumni and preservationists fighting to save the historic building. On the other side are administrators who decided to demolish it.

A Harris County district court judge has ordered the two sides to come to an agreement in mediation.

Eighty five years ago, the building for one of first high schools for black students in Houston was erected. It became Phillis Wheatley High School.

Many notable alumni studied there, like Barbara Jordan, the first African-American U.S. Congresswoman from the South.

“It’s heart-wrenching to think that that part of history is going to be erased,” says Kathy Blueford-Daniels.

She’s leading a coalition to save the campus in the Fifth Ward. The historically black neighborhood north of downtown is rapidly gentrifying.

Over the Labor Day weekend, the Houston Independent School District started to tear down the historic structure.

One issue is what HISD told voters during its bond election in 2012 that raised $1.9 billion.

At first, the plan promised some replacement and renovation at the Wheatley site. But then HISD changed to an alternate plan for demolition.

Blueford-Daniels says that plan was never made clear.

“We felt we had been deceived. Most people do not read really small miniscule print as opposed to the mail-outs that they sent out to say vote yes for the bond.”

Sheleah Reed with HISD says the district needs to make room to build a brand new campus for its Young Men’s College Prep Academy. Currently that project is slated at nearly $29 million.

Reed says HISD will put forth a good faith effort in mediation.

“We’re going to do our best to come out with something that really solves both of our problems and gives both of us what we need.”

If the two sides can’t agree to a resolution by themselves, a Harris County judge has said she’ll make a decision for them.