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'This was sacred grounds' | Efforts underway to save and preserve Palm School

Travis County leaders are making efforts to preserve the future of the historic Palm School in Downtown Austin.

AUSTIN, Texas — Travis County leaders are revisiting the future of the historic Palm School in Downtown Austin. 

Last week, County leaders discussed preserving the space while making it profitable at the same time. County members have made plans to preserve the building since 2019, but those plans were halted during the pandemic. 

Those with connections to the Palm School explained that there's a great deal of history that needs to be remembered. 

"Palm School was probably one of the first, if not the first, public schools made available to Mexican-Americans here in Austin and there's a great deal of history with the presence of Mexican-Americans in and what we know now as the downtown area," Paul Saldaña said. 

Saldaña's father was a student at Palm School. He explained the experiences his father had while attending the school, saying that in the days before Interstate 35 existed throughout Austin, the building wouldn't have electricity or air conditioning. 

"There was a lot of great deal of unpleasantness to remember as well too," Saldaña said. "It's important for us to preserve that, how our community, the Mexican-American poor community, how resilient they were."

Anita Quintanilla grew up on Rainy Street and went to Palm School for six years. 

"This was sacred grounds. This was our school, our culture, our community. We knew everybody," Quintanilla said. 

A coalition has been formed 47 years after the Palm School's closure in an effort to preserve the school for the community. The coalition is determined to convert the school and park into an art gallery, museum or community space.

Since the pandemic put a pause on the preservation project, most of the County staff that had worked on the original project left. One county commissioner doesn't want to start over and instead reactivate the original Palm School preservation project. 

"I feel like the community has spoken, we value this as a cultural asset, and I don't know why we're not starting from there," Travis County Commissioner Ann Howard said. 

Outside of the Palm School lies all kinds of developments reflecting a city that's changed by leaps and bounds – and that's motivation for Saldaña and Quintanilla, who are eager for historic and cultural preservation. 

"People are partying and drinking on Rainey Street, they don't have an idea of the history of it," Quintanilla said. 

"In order for our city to know where we're going, we have to acknowledge our past," Saldaña said. 

The Travis County Commissioners Court is looking at creating a steering committee made of stakeholders that will oversee future development. 

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