AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - The Palm School hasn't been the Palm School since 1976, but its rich history dates back to 1892 according to the Waller Creek Conservancy.
Austin City Council Member Sabino "Pio" Renteria was a student there. He speaks fondly of the first Hispanic teacher he ever had.
"When she spoke Spanish to us I said 'wow this is like a green light for us to be able to go out there and speak Spanish and learn our language' because they kept saying that there was no way that we were going to be able to learn our own language," Renteria said.
There's a grassroots coalition called Save Palm School made up of Austin Latino organizations. The coalition is hoping Travis County will decide not to sell it.
"They're in the process of relocating Health and Human Services and Veterans Services to a new office on Airport Blvd, which then would leave this building empty," said coalition member Paul Saldaña.
Most members of Save Palm School would like to see Palm School become a place of cultural learning.
"Through creating a Mexican-American indigenous museum. 22nd century, state of the art, so that not only the Mexican-American community can join in but I think Austinites can enjoy it," Saldaña said.
Bringing Palm School back to life is just one of many projects in the works for that area. There's the Waller Creek Park improvements and a proposed expansion of the Austin Convention Center.
Council Member Kathie Tovo is bringing a resolution to council this week that ties it all together.
"Something that's open to the public that provides reasons for people to come down here and to learn," Tovo said.
Tovo referenced a recent U.T. study done on the convention district. She says an expansion has the opportunity to enhance some of the area around the Convention Center.
"The Convention Center expansion actually called for taking down some of the existing structure so that it had a better interaction with Palm Park and Waller Creek and that's really what really interests me," Tovo said.
Tovo's resolution urges Travis County not to sell Palm School or the surrounding site.
"Our concern has been that Judge Eckhardt has been focused on maximizing the real estate value on this property but either selling it or having the county enter into a long term ground lease agreement with a third party developer," Saldaña said.
In a statement, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt called Palm School a “touchstone for our community for generations”:
Palm School has been a touchstone for our community for generations. Since 1986, Travis County has preserved the building while using it as the flagship office of support for our indigent services. Now that the clients of our indigent services no longer live in or near the downtown area, we are moving our flagship Health and Human Services office to Airport Blvd. In preparation for this move, Travis County held multiple community meetings about the future of Palm School and invited the community to participate in a survey. Travis County staff will be presenting those results to Commissioners Court soon. While Travis County no longer has a governmental need for the building at the Palm School site, we fully understand and agree that there is a need to preserve the cultural significance of the site. When Travis County sells the property, we will require that a future owner will preserve it.
Saldaña is concerned the county's terms of sale won't do enough for the community.
"Essentially we would end up with a bookshelf or a closet and that would be our museum. That is not sufficient, we don't think that's wise," Saldaña said.
Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gomez was at the coalition's press conference so she supports giving the school back to the community.
Commissioners Court will be discussing this tentatively on June 4th.
The County says if those who want to e-mail them thoughts or ideas for Palm School can send them to email@example.com.