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100-year-old Sharyland building lives in uncertainty

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Sharyland ISD’s former central office building. But for nearly 10 years, it has remained empty due to structural issues that eventually led to its condemnation in 2017. Now, community members express concern about the future of an edifice deeply rooted in Sharyland’s history.

HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

The former administration building was one of Sharyland ISD’s first schools when it opened in 1924. Although the Texas Legislature established SISD in 1921, the school system needed a larger campus to accommodate Sharyland’s growing community. Headed by John H. Shary, district leaders sought to build the structure on the corner of Highway 83 and Shary Road. According to archives from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the school was the first of its kind in Texas.

A July 1924 article from the San Antonio Express newspaper said Sharyland was the first in Texas “to adopt this new, open-air, one-story type of building” — a style that had been popular in California. The article describes some of the then-cutting-edge features that no other Texas schools had at the time. For example, the campus included a loudspeaker in each classroom with a microphone in the principal’s office — allowing them to make announcements to individual classes or the entire student body.

But the most significant part of the building is the white front entrance, which has remained mostly the same, even after the district remodeled the structure in 1988. Its columns and rounded archway are hallmarks of Italian Renaissance architecture, according to Endangered Properties Manager Conor Herterich for Preservation Texas. He said the triangular roof, sculpted torches and medallions are details from the Classical Revival era. Harvey P. Smith was the architect — the same designer of the Mission Historical Museum and a figure most remembered as a historic preservationist.

A plaque of the original board of trustees sits at the front entrance, commemorating the longstanding structure.

UNCERTAIN FUTURE

In more recent years, the property became the Sharyland Administration building, where the board of trustees held monthly meetings. But toward the end of the 2015 spring semester, about 10 feet of the ceiling came crumbling down into the boardroom, according to a 2016 Progress Times article. The district evacuated the building, relocated administrative staff and has since held the school board meetings at the two high school auditoriums.

“There were some structural issues with some of the walls; the building had been aging,” Director of Maintenance and Risk Management Mark Dougherty said. “When we had people look at it, it was deemed unsafe. So, that’s why we moved out of there when we did.”

At the time, administrative staff reported that renovations would have required anywhere from $2 million to $5 million — money the district did not have, and figures that would be greater in 2024 due to inflation. Still, the district was weighing their options.

More than three years ago, Sharyland ISD went out for a bond with a proposition to create a new central administration building. But constituents voted against it in the November 2020 election.

However, former SISD Trustee Dr. Noel Garza said he has been waiting for an update from the district.

After 12 years as a trustee, Garza left the board in 2019. He admitted that since then, he has been less knowledgeable about the happenings at Sharyland ISD, but his patients still ask him about the old central office location. He said they miss taking their kids to be recognized in the central office boardroom because it felt more personal.

Garza addressed the sitting trustees in a public comment at the October 2023 meeting, pleading that the structure is not a lost cause.

“You would like for something to come about as far as functionality for that building. There’s a lot of questions out there. Has the district approached the city for help, has the district approached the state for help or looked into federal funding? If all those avenues are not explored, it’s not right for the Sharyland taxpayer to not be updated on a building such as this,” Garza said in a Progress Times interview. “It’s going to be already 10 years with nobody going in that building. My question is, what’s going on?”

Dougherty said the building is not a registered historical landmark, but the district is open to pursuing the option.

Local preservationist and historian Gabriel Ozuna explained the three possible levels for designating the administration building as a historic structure — local, state and national.

In a local designation, which yields the most protection for the building, someone must present a petition to the Mission Historical Preservation Commission. But for the commission to consider the item, the property owner (the superintendent) must provide a signature.

Another option at the local level is for the city to initiate the process, which is a little more complicated, Ozuna said.

“It just means that the city council or the city manager or staff or the historic preservation officer, which is Cyndi Stojanovic at the museum, would have to basically apply on behalf of the city,” he explained. “And that gets tricky later because then they would need to basically agree to designate it as a landmark over the objections of the owner, which carries a supermajority requirement on the vote. It’s sort of geared toward giving property owners most of the privilege in all of this. But it is a process.”

In a state designation, the building would become a Texas Historic Landmark, which does convey some protections but is weaker than a local ordinance.

At the national level, the building could join the National Register of Historic Places, but it is merely honorific. Ozuna said the designation does not have any protections associated with it. However, it does open the district to grant opportunities and outside funding sources for protection.

“So there’s benefits to pursuing any and all of these [designations] but it does sort of, at least initially, require the consent of the property owner,” he explained. “So it really kind of depends on what Sharyland is willing to do with it.”

SISD’s maintenance director said the district is still considering all possible avenues for the future of the 100-year-old building. But money is always a question. The district has been using federal pandemic-relief funds to address issues with other campuses, but those funds expire this year.

Former Trustee Ricky Longoria, who was also on the school board when the city condemned the building, said the trustees and the district must prioritize the limited funding.

“At the end of the day, whatever was decided would take money,” Longoria said. “And if you look at historical finances, money has been a challenge for public education, specifically public schools, for some years now. At the end of the day, it’s no different than any other analysis. You look at priorities…and there were just other things that needed attention.”

Still, Garza wishes there was more to commemorate for the 100th anniversary.

“You have the opportunity of a lifetime here to celebrate,” he said, addressing the district. “Please don’t drop the ball.”

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