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East Dallas Neighbors Seek To Derail New School


JONATHAN BETZ, WFAA – "Eminent domain." Those are two words homeowners fear and businesses dread — especially those in the neighborhood of Oran Roberts Elementary School near Fair Park.

The Dallas Independent School District is planning to tear down the century-old school building and build a new one — but it needs room to do that.

So the DISD is on a land-buying binge.

But besides the school, many of the homes and businesses have also been in the neighborhood for decades, and as some residents and merchants are fighting to stay put, one school board member is questioning the need for new classrooms.

Bernadette Nutall, newly elected to represent District 9, told News 8 that she is not yet convinced a new school here is needed.

It's the latest twist for the district as it faces battles on several fronts to build new campuses.

On Grand Avenue, the nondescript building that houses Vickery's Greenhouse can be hard to miss, but the fight the business faces is clear.

The Dallas school district wants to tear down the 84-year-old wholesale florist along with dozens of nearby homes to build a replacement for Roberts Elementary.

"You're putting a business out of business; you're putting people in the unemployment line," said Vickery general manager Anne Smith.

Several businesses in this part of Old East Dallas say the district is strong-arming them out and low-balling property owners.

Rolando Lozano said he was offered $50,000 for his home. "Not a fair price," he said.

And this is just one of several fights DISD faces as it attempts to honor voter's wishes by building new schools.

In Oak Cliff, neighbors are resisting plans to tear down a historic church to build a new high school.

The district's fight in East Dallas has Nutall so concerned, she's planning a town hall meeting to air complaints.

Administrators and homeowners here question the need for new construction. Two years ago, the district spent more than $2 million renovating Roberts.

And a former school that is now used for offices sits only blocks away.

But others residents near Roberts like Ricky Lopez don't mind selling out. He would like to see a new elementary school for his nine-year-old son.

"I think its a great thing," Lopez said. "It would be nice; I mean, that school been there for years."

Now serving a second century of students, the district says Roberts Elementary must be replaced. But that won't happen without a fight, neighbors insist.

Some, like Smith, are now resisting an exit at any price.

"Now it's not even about money," she said. "This is our place, we want to stay here!"

The school district says it is trying to work with property owners to pay a fair price for condemned property.

Nutall said she has a lot of unanswered questions about this new school, and hopes a community meeting later this month will help the district decide whether a replacement for Roberts Elementary is actually the best possible decision.

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