Salinas: City of Mission just as culpable as Mission CISD for deterioration of Roosevelt Elementary

MISSION, Texas – Community leader Ester Salinas says Mission City Council is just as much to blame as Mission CISD for the way the nationally registered Roosevelt School Auditorium has been allowed to fall into disrepair. 

The school board has sent bulldozers in to demolish the building, which was built in 1929. But, says Salinas, if the city’s preservation ordinances were working properly, Mission CISD could have been cited for “demolition by neglect” for failing to maintain the roof over the past couple of decades. 

And, again, if the city’s preservation ordinances were functioning properly the council could have stopped the school district from demolishing the building. 

“It is a disgrace. Mission City Council does not care about our history. Any of the nationally registered and state registered buildings in the city could suffer the same fate. If the owner came along and said, ‘I’m going to demolish this structure,’ the City Council could not do anything about it because the preservation ordinances are not worth the paper they are written on,” Salinas said.

Salinas attended Roosevelt Elementary School as a student. Its auditorium is the only surviving part of Roosevelt Elementary School, which was opened in 1926 to serve students living on the “Mexican” side of Mission. Previously titled Mission Grammar School, it was renamed in honor of former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt. The auditorium was used daily for meetings and school functions for the best part of 50 years. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. 

Salinas said she learned a lot about about the shortfalls in the City of Mission’s preservation ordinances from Gabriel Ozuna, vice chair of Hidalgo County Historical Commission and chair of its preservation committee. Ozuna previously worked for the City of Mission as its Historic Preservation Coordinator.

Salinas said she learned from Ozuna that there are “a lot of holes” in the preservation ordinance.

“Gabriel said he met with the city attorney and was told that the reason the City could not do anything legally was because there were discrepancies in the preservation ordinance. The ordinance was hastily put together,” Salinas said.

“It turns out the ordinance is a cut and paste job. There’s a part of the ordinance that says you need the approval of six city council members in order to halt a demolition. We only have four city council members in Mission. The ordinance from the other city wasn’t proof-read. What a joke.”

Salinas she understands the City of Mission passed a preservation ordinance in 1992 but that this was repealed in 2015. 

“So, the Texas Historical Commission threatened to de-certify the City of Mission. Whoops. So, they hastily put together a new ordinance with holes in it.”

Salinas said she has corresponded with Mission Mayor Norie Gonzalez Garza by text because the mayor is currently out of town. 

“Norie forwarded a statement from City Manager Randy Perez. It reads: ‘Good afternoon, Ma’am. As far as the Roosevelt Auditorium (is concerned), I checked with Legal and based on our current ordinance, there isn’t anything the City can do. The school district did make all the necessary arrangements with the historical component as well as permits. Also, the district has concerns with the condition of the building as a safety concern.’ What a cop out,” Salinas said.

“If their preservation ordinances were framed properly the City could have cited the school district for ‘demolition by neglect’ because they allowed the auditorium roof to deteriorate.”

Salinas said there is no question in her mind that Mission CISD could have formed a committee to raise the money to save the auditorium roof.

“We know the floor, the base, is structurally sound. We know the walls are sound. We just had to raise money for the roof. I told the president of the school board two years that we could raise the money. The president at the time was Jerry Zamora. He said it would cost about $2 million to fix the roof. I said, ‘Jerry, that is nothing. We can raise that.’ I sent it via text. I still have it. I said, ‘we can raise the money, we can form a committee.’ He said, no, no, no. We don’t form committees.”

Salinas said she has also spoken with the current school board president, Betty Mendoza. “Betty says she was not told when the demolition was going to start. How can you be president of the school board and not get told any of this? The school board looks so weak and incompetent.”

Salinas said she also contacted, via text, state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, a Mission native who went to school at Roosevelt Elementary.

“Senator Hinojosa said it was very sad. He said he wished the school district had asked for public feedback. He said Roosevelt Auditorium is historic and part of Mission’s education history. He said the State of Texas has funding available to preserve buildings such as Roosevelt Auditorium.”

Statement from Mission CISD

When angry residents noticed demolition workers had arrived at the site of the auditorium they immediately contacted the media. It was at this point that Mission CISD issued a statement. It said:

“Contractors have started preliminary site work in preparation for the demolition of the Roosevelt School Auditorium. This follows years of study and efforts to try and garner support for saving the deteriorating historic building. 

“After several years of studies, the Mission Consolidated Independent School District (CISD) Board of Trustees approved the demolition of the Roosevelt School Auditorium building in April 2021. The building had not been usable by the district for many years and had been deemed unsafe by structural engineers in November 2020. The condition of the auditorium building was also impacting the use of other portions of the campus, including classrooms that were a part of the original school. Attempts to work with groups of interest to find financial support for major renovations to the building were also not successful. In December 2022, planned demolition work was postponed until this summer, so as not to impact school operations.

“Throughout the time period district officials have been working through its legal counsel in providing notification to and abiding by all requirements of the Historical Commission regarding the status of the auditorium. 

“Contractors have been instructed to save parts of the existing building so they can be used to construct an area memorializing the historic portions of the original Roosevelt School, which includes a small classroom wing that will continue to be used by the campus. The existing auditorium footprint will be incorporated into the campus and building memorial, as well as some additional parking for the campus. 

“Contractors have begun the process of asbestos abatement, which has strict safety and environmental requirements. The abatement process is also common when any sort of renovation/building/demolition work is done on older structures. Once completed, it eliminates environmental and safety concerns during the demolition process.”

Editor’s Note: The above news story is the first in a three-part series on Roosevelt Auditorium. Part Two, featuring the analysis of Mission community activist Irma Flores Lopez, will be posted in our next edition.

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