City could buy historic Montopolis School

A piece of Austin's African-American history that dates back to the 1890's could be preserved for future generations with one vote by city council.

A piece of Austin's African-American history that dates back to the 1890s could be preserved for future generations with one vote by city council.

The old Montopolis School has been the center of debate for the last two years. Recently the city developed a way to buy the property.

The last time students sat inside the school was in 1962.

Fast forward to two years ago, when talk of knocking down the school to make way for new development raised some eyebrows in the neighborhood.

Last summer, area activists protested.

"We have a different vision for that piece of property," said Fred McGhee, President of the Montopolis Neighborhood Association. "We would like to preserve it and use it as a form of community development that is heritage based and I think we can do that."

Months after city staff denied the school historic landmark status, the neighbors may soon get their wish.

"Tomorrow's resolution will authorize our City Manager to move forward and negotiate the purchase of the site," said Austin Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo. "It's my understanding that the developer is open to selling to the city which is a remarkable place to be in."

Tovo helped develop a way for the city to allocate several million dollars of its hotel tax fund to historic preservation and buy the land from developer and owner Austin Stowell.

He builds single-family homes and saw an opportunity in the plot off Montopolis near Riverside in 2015.

He looked into building on the 1.8 acres around the school but explains he couldn't do that without filing a permit for demolition.

"There's a rightaway on the site and the transportation department wanted to release the rightaway. And the new rightaway they wanted in exchange for the old one went right underneath the structure, which necessitated either demolition or a moving of the structure."

The city's Landmark Commission granted the permit.

Before work could be done city council talked with Stowell about making an offer but just how much they'll put up is still unknown, even to him.

"Professional appraisers will get involved and determine if there is a value that's agreeable to both parties," Stowell said. "If we can come to terms that's a win-win then absolutely."

Travis county historical documents say the land was worth about $2,000 in 1952 when the school became part of AISD.

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