First in a series

Attending a community forum hosted by the Waxahachie chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, city councilors and staffers discussed numerous topics with residents from the city’s east side.

“The reason you all have been asked here is because we have concerns,” chapter president Betty Jefferson said.

First discussed was the site of the former Oak Lawn School, a piece of property about three acres in size located on Wyatt Street.

The D.H.Thompson family deeded the property to Waxahachie ISD in the early 20th century, stipulating that the land would remain in the district’s control so long as it was used for an educational purpose. However, the WISD moved to divest itself of the property in March, Jefferson said, and the future of the historic site is up in the air.

Residents at the meeting proposed a number of ideas for the site’s future, from putting a modular building there to serve as a community education center to take any permanent building projects on the site without making sure the title is clear, Stevens said it could be possible to maintain the property as a park.

Such an action could also help the city to eventually take possession of the property, the city manager said, citing a method of seizure known as adverse possession, in which an entity can assume ownership of by maintaining it for a period of from five to seven years.

Council member Ron Wilkinson raised concerns, though, expressing his opinion the condemnation mechanism would be more straightforward, could be quicker and would make ownership issues more clear.

After several residents raised questions about why action - such as the use of a modular structure on the property - is not being taken now, Wilkinson said the legalities surrounding the deed should be addressed first.

Calling it a threshold issue, Wilkinson said it would be imprudent for the city or anyone to move forward with any plans yet, as “no foundations” would provide support or funds if there were any ownership issues.

He also said the site should be checked out to determine its suitability for a new structure.

Council member Joe Gallo also advocated moving forward more slowly, noting the city only recently acquired an interest in the issue and is only now beginning the process of gathering input from residents about what to do with the site.

Gallo also emphasized that if a “temporary, short-term solution” were sought and put into motion immediately, it could negatively affect any abandonment/adverse possession proceedings the city may desire to pursue.

Responding to a question from Jefferson, council members affirmed they would discuss the Oak Lawn site during their upcoming retreat, dedicating a space on their agenda to addressing the questions surrounding the property.

That retreat will take place Wednesday, Oct. 30, at the Waxahachie Civic Center.

The site’s history, while part of the motivation for preserving it, also presents challenges for the future.

City building inspector Sanford Smith told those present the old school building had contained some asbestos and when it was demolished, the debris was buried on site.

At that time, the laws only required asbestos abatement if the debris was removed from a demolition, Smith said, noting the building’s basement and additional excavation were filled with the school’s remains, which were subsequently buried under about 6 feet of dirt.

Putting a solid-slab foundation on the site - a necessity for a multi-story building - could require excavating and removing up to 22 feet of earth and debris from the site before it could be built upon, he said, noting that left encapsulated, the material remains undisturbed.

Abatement questions about potential airborne contaminants would also have to be addressed, Smith said, adding, “It wouldn’t be impossible to build on the site, but it would be very expensive.”

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removing all buildings and erecting a historical marker instead.

Jefferson told the audience that discussions had taken place with various entities about the property, with city staff noting several obstacles.

City Manager Paul Stevens told the audience that the city is hesitant to build anything on the site, as the city may not be able to own whatever it builds.

If it was determined the property was not being used for an educational purpose, it could revert to the heirs of D.H. Thompson, he said. As of yet, the city has been unable to locate potential claimants to the property, Stevens said, adding that the city’s attorney has tracked the title into the 1970s thus far.

Since the city does not want to under