After the City of Austin acquired the Montopolis Negro School in 2019, the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) initiated formal protective efforts and completed a hazardous material abatement in preparation for a visioning efforts for the historic school building.

PARD’s goal is to launch a planning efforts in Spring 2022, however, this timeline is contingent on the status of the public health crisis. The Montopolis community spearheaded the advocacy efforts that led to the City’s acquisition of the building and PARD recognizes and commends the community’s efforts to ensure that this significant historic site is preserved and looks forward to collaboration on the future of the site.

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Image of current structure of Montopolis School

Background

Until the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education landmark US Supreme Court case, the education system in the United States was racially segregated by law. In 1935, a major Austin flood destroyed the c. 1891 original Montopolis Negro School located on the north side of Bastrop Highway about one mile south of the Colorado River.  St. Edward’s Baptist Church donated land to Travis County for school purposes at 500 Montopolis Dr. A two-room army barrack was relocated from Camp Swift to the site and renovated to serve as a school. Travis County transferred ownership of the school to Austin public schools in 1952, and the school closed in 1962 due to desegregation of schools.

In 1967, the property was purchased from Austin public schools, and the building then served as the Montopolis Church of Christ. The church operated until the 1980s and the building has remained vacant since that time. In 2015, a private developer purchased the tract of land along with the building with the intention of developing the land into single family homes, retail space, and an office building.

The City of Austin began the process of acquiring the Montopolis Negro School in 2017, as directed in Resolution 20170928-056, for the purpose of preserving and programming the building and site as a museum and tourist asset. Ultimately, negotiations with a private landowner were unsuccessful and Resolution 20180628-081 initiated eminent domain proceedings in 2018. The Office of Real Estate Services communicated in a January 24, 2019 memorandum to City Council that the City of Austin had taken possession of the property.

Upon taking possession of the building, the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) communicated in a March 6, 2019 memorandum to City Council its intention to secure and protect the building and identify funding for a planning effort. PARD completed formal protective efforts in 2019 and completed a hazardous material abatement in Summer 2020. All of the building’s furnishings are secured on-site in a secure container and all sensitive material is stored in archival boxes in a climate-controlled environment.

For further details please see this timeline of actions that led to eminent domain proceedings.

Project Description

Efforts are underway to ensure that the building’s history is recognized through formal historic designations. PARD staff has notified the Historic Preservation Office about restarting the City of Austin Historic Landmark designation process, which was postponed in 2019 as part of the previous private development case. This effort will be coordinated closely with the community to ensure their involvement in the documentation of the community’s history. Additionally, PARD’s collaborative relationship with the University of Texas School of Architecture’s Historic Preservation Program led to the Montopolis School being selected as the focus of a Spring 2021 semester class that may result in additional resources to support future planning efforts.

As part of the preliminary planning efforts, PARD has engaged the Austin Transportation Department (ATD) in a review of a city-owned tract of land reserved for road purposes that is adjacent to the property. The tract presents challenges to the historic school building due to its proximity to the building and site. ATD has agreed that it would be appropriate to explore various options with respect to the tract and future road alignment as part of the planning process.

Protective Efforts to Date

PARD received $50,000 from the Historic Preservation Fund in FY19 to secure the building and complete a hazardous material abatement process. The following areas were addressed with the FY19 funding.

  • Fencing
  • Pews
  • Archival storage boxes
  • Relocation services associated with the acquisition
  • Onsite storage unit
  • Asbestos and lead testing, abatement, and monitoring
  • Pest control

The Montopolis community spearheaded the advocacy efforts that led to the City’s acquisition of the building. PARD recognizes and commends the community efforts to ensure that this significant historic site is preserved and looks forward to collaboration on future planning efforts

Community Engagement

PARD will continue to monitor the pandemic to offer opportunities for engagement that align with community health recommendations while maximizing opportunities for community members. 

Open House
500 Montopolis Dr.
November 6, 2021, 10 a.m. to noon

Funding and Resources

In 2020, PARD and Austin Parks Foundation earmarked $150,000 of Austin City Limits funding toward a vision planning effort, however, formal planning has not begun due the public health crisis.

The funding for acquisition of the Montopolis School is made possible by Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funding to support projects and initiatives that meet allowable uses as defined under Chapter 351 of the Texas Tax Code. HOT revenue is an essential tool for the promotion of tourism and supports the growth of the tourism, convention and hotel industry. PARD is an important partner in this effort as public parks, museums and cultural centers are among the top tourist attractions in the City.

Contact

For additional information, email HistoricAustinParks@austintexas.gov.