Bid begins to halt reconstruction of historic Roosevelt Elementary

Members of a local preservation group showed support for the historic Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School at a regular meeting of the McAllen City Commission on Monday. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — A preservation group on Monday began efforts to save the historic Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School in McAllen, and city commissioners handed them a temporary victory at Monday’s city commission meeting.

But Bert Guerra of the historic Cine El Rey was not totally pleased. A vote still looms at the next city commission meeting on Feb. 24, where McAllen commissioners will vote to decide whether to save the historic school site, located at 17th St. and Galveston Ave.

On Monday, commissioners decided to support four of five proposed tax credits for Low-Income Housing Tax Credit developments in the city, with a deadline looming in February for developers to submit applications for the federal funding. The one commissioners decided not to support on Monday was the historic site.

“I feel good,” Guerra said after the meeting. “But, as you can tell, they don’t give straight answers. Thank God the city attorney, Mr. Pagan, gave me a straight answer — they could decide which ones to give the tax breaks to, but they didn’t give the tax break on the one that we’re trying to save, which, hopefully they’ll leave it alone. That’s sneaky.”

The property in question belongs to the McAllen Independent School District. The school board has essentially appealed the site’s historic designation to city hall, and city commissioners are expected to vote on that in the coming weeks.

In supporting four of the five projects, city commissioners’ decision did not please Arnold Padilla, executive director of the McAllen Housing Authority. Padilla proposed to save the historic site and said the housing authority has nowhere else to go — it is the housing authority of the city.

Mayor Jim Darling listens Monday as members of a local preservation group speak in support of the historic Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School in McAllen during a regular city commission meeting. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

But commissioners found it fair to give for profits and nonprofits like the housing authority a fair shake, which does not bode well for the housing authority.

“I agree that giving a positive resolution to all of them would increase our chances,” Commissioner Omar Quintanilla said of possibly receiving multiple tax credits for developers for these projects in McAllen. “But we’re offsetting the McAllen Housing Authority’s chance of getting approved.”

Guerra, meanwhile, still wants to ensure the preservation of the historic site, which has been decaying for years.

“We are here to protect a beautiful historical building and we don’t wanna be left behind again and ignored,” Guerra said.

After Monday’s meeting, Commissioner Victor “Seby” Haddad said he can see both sides, but a fundamental question comes down to this:

“What can we do with that building?” Haddad said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify the location of the historic school site.