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Dallas ISD’s Plan To Raze Homes For New School Leaves Some Angry Over Offers


Nancy Visser, Dallas Morning News – Jubilee Park residents who are being forced from their homes to make way for a new school building at O.M. Roberts Elementary met with Dallas ISD officials Tuesday to beg for a different plan.

They want the district to find another site for the school or to make better offers on their homes.

One thing was clear by the end of the two-hour meeting: "Our hope in saving the neighborhood is gone," Norma Hernandez said. "They're not listening to our concerns."

DISD is firm in its plans to build a new school behind the original building, which is on Grand Avenue between Interstate 30 and Fair Park. About two dozen houses on Gurley and Philip avenues and one business will be torn down for new construction. The old school, which was built in 1909, will be razed for ballfields and parking.

In the last six months, the school board has approved the purchase of at least 23 properties for the new school.

Construction won't begin until 2012, but the residents said they're being pressed to sell by the end of May.

"We feel the residents are at a disadvantage because they are poor, elderly and uneducated about the law," said Hernandez, who initiated the meeting with DISD officials at a Jubilee Park community building.

Phil Jimerson, DISD administrator over construction services, agreed to give the residents a few weeks to seek legal aid before plans proceed to buy or condemn the properties.

"We have already purchased 60 percent of the property, so we will be moving forward," Jimerson said.

The holdouts include several hardship cases:

  • Hernandez is fighting on behalf of her parents, Rolando and Angie Lozano, both 74, who bought their house on Philip Avenue in 1972. Their only retirement income is $500 a month from Social Security. Hernandez lives nearby and helps with groceries.
  • The Lozanos were offered $52,000 for their three-bedroom house. Hernandez said they can't replace their home with that amount.
  • "I want my parents to be compensated according to what a house costs nowadays," she said. "Homes cost $120,000 to $150,000 and I want them to be compensated so that they're comfortable in their retirement."
  • Shawn Busari is fighting on behalf of her brother, Revis Loftis, 58, who is homebound after a stroke. DISD offered $50,000 for the house on Gurley Avenue that was originally purchased by their mother.
  • "We tried to secure something for my brother, and for $50,000, we can secure a ticket to a nursing home," said Busari, who also lives in Jubilee Park.
  • Pat Berry, owner of Vickery Wholesale Greenhouse, the only business targeted, said DISD's $630,000 offer means he'll file for bankruptcy and close his business, which employees 24 people, many of them Jubilee Park residents.

He said that based on worst-case scenarios he'd need $4.4 million to purchase land and build a new facility. He said he still owes $500,000 from an expansion in 1998.

He asked that the school district spare his business, which sits next to the old school. But the district has already gone to court to condemn it.

"This has always been a crime-ridden neighborhood, and that's gotten better. But this is the biggest crime against the neighborhood," Berry said to the shouts and applause of the nearly 30 residents who attended the meeting.


Rejected plans
Jimerson told the residents that the district is bound to offer fair market value for their homes. He advised them to get their own appraisals – though one person noted that the cost of an appraisal would be a hardship for many.

Jimerson explained that DISD looked at multiple sites, but most would have displaced even more residents. The district decided to use the 3.5 acres from the existing school and acquire the additional property.

He said the site of an old Ford assembly plant near the school was rejected because 60 percent of the students would have to cross Grand Avenue to get there and because of concerns about contaminated soil.

He said the district also considered property in the middle of the neighborhood owned by the Jubilee Park and Community Center Corp., which was created from a volunteer group that has worked in the neighborhood for more than a decade. That group acquired land for a park, community center, resource center and affordable housing projects.

"The district met with Jubilee volunteers and it was our understanding that it was suggested that we go to another option," Jimerson said.

Andy Kerner, chairman of the group's housing task force, said even more homes would have been needed for that plan. He said the group's board left the decision to DISD.

Kerner asked residents at the meeting for a list of homeowners who haven't sold yet.

"We would like to understand how many homeowners are affected and get with the Jubilee Park board to see what Jubilee can do to help," he said.


Jubilee's support
Walt Humann, construction chairman for Jubilee Park, said Monday that the group will work to find affordable housing for the residents.

Humann said he supports DISD's plan. "We're advocating for the residents and the community, and we think it's great for DISD to spend $22 million to get rid of the oldest and most decrepit school in the system."

Humann said conditions at the old school were so dismal that, at one point, the staff had to battle mosquito infestations from the flooded basement when West Nile cases were being reported in the area. In addition, the students sometimes had to work in rooms where temperatures registered above 90 degrees, he said.

Despite that, Humann pointed out, the staff has turned the school around from being a low-performing elementary school in the district to attaining exemplary status.


Read the full story here…

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