Save Our History & Don't Bulldoze Our Past: Preserve University Junior High

Dear President Hartzell and Members of the UT System Board of Regents,

I'm writing to you today as a concerned member of the community and an advocate for the preservation of our cultural heritage. Recent proposals regarding the Steve Hicks School of Social Work (SHSSW), formerly University Junior High building (UJH), at The University of Texas at Austin have sparked considerable controversy and dismay among preservationists, historians, and community members alike.

As outlined in the compelling opinion pieces by community members, the UJH building is not just a structure; it is a symbol of educational innovation, social progress, and cultural significance. Constructed during the Great Depression through a collaboration between UT-Austin/College of Education and the Austin Public School System (now AISD), UJH served as a model school, fostering educational excellence and facilitating the integration of students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Moreover, UJH holds immense architectural and historical value, being one of only four buildings at UT Austin listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Designed with the assistance of renowned architect Paul Philippe Cret, the Spanish Revival building stands as a testament to the university's rich history and architectural heritage. The presence of the Raul Valdez mural, "Heart and Soul," within the SHSSW further underscores the building's cultural importance, serving as a powerful symbol of social justice and resilience.

However, the proposed demolition of UJH to make way for a second football training facility raises serious concerns about the University's commitment to preserving its cultural heritage and honoring its past. While I acknowledge the challenges posed by deferred maintenance, it's imperative that we explore alternative solutions that prioritize preservation and sustainability.

In light of the University's strategic vision and master plans that focus on sustainability and the recent renovation of historic buildings, I urge you to consider the following points:

1. Preservation of Cultural Heritage: UJH represents a unique blend of architectural excellence, educational innovation, and social progress. Its preservation is essential not only for maintaining the University's cultural identity but also for honoring the harmonious racial integration experienced by past generations of UJH alumni.

2. Alternative Site Selection: The University should reconsider the location of its proposal and explore alternative sites for the football training facility. Specifically, the Manor parking garage and the UT Police Department building present viable options that would allow for the preservation of UJH while meeting the needs of the athletic department.

3. Student Equity: The proposed demolition of UJH and the prioritization of a second football training facility over the preservation of this historic building raise serious concerns about social equity within the student community. As an institution committed to diversity, inclusion, and social justice, UT Austin must recognize the inherent inequity in prioritizing the needs of student athletes over those of social work students.

4. Sustainable Development: Instead of demolishing UJH, the university should explore options for adaptive reuse and sustainable redevelopment. Repurposing the building could not only preserve its historical integrity but also promote environmentally responsible practices in campus development, aligning with the university's commitment to sustainability.

5. Environmental Impact: The proposed demolition of UJH and subsequent construction of a football training facility would eliminate vital tree canopy and have significant environmental implications, particularly for Waller Creek. Runoff from the new construction could potentially damage the creek's ecosystem, highlighting the need for a comprehensive environmental impact study before any decisions are made. If the massive trees are relocated, it's unlikely to survive due to massive size and under Austin’s drought conditions.

6. Community Engagement: The decision to demolish UJH should be made in consultation with community stakeholders, including historians, preservationists, alumni, and local residents. Their input is vital in ensuring that any future developments align with the values and aspirations of the community.

7. Long-Term Vision: As guardians of UT Austin's legacy, it's incumbent upon University Leadership to adopt a long-term perspective that prioritizes preservation and stewardship. Investing in the restoration and maintenance of historic buildings like UJH is an investment in our collective future, fostering a sense of pride and connection among current and future generations of Longhorns.

In conclusion, I implore you to reconsider the decision to demolish UJH and to explore alternative solutions that uphold the University's commitment to preservation, sustainability, and community engagement. We can honor the past while also inspiring future generations to build a more sustainable and inclusive campus community by preserving our cultural heritage and prioritizing environmental stewardship.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your response and to working together to ensure the preservation of UJH for generations to come \m/
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