The fate of what is considered the oldest building in town has been decided.
Despite an effort by the Port Aransas Preservation and Historical Association (PAPHA) to preserve the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers building at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI), the university has decided to demolish the building. It sustained significant damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, and it also has major asbestos exposure, according to university officials.
Also known as Dormitory B, the Corps of Engineers building was constructed in the 1890s to house Army engineers who were building the south jetty.
In 1941, UTMSI was established in Port Aransas, and the university acquired 12 acres of land along the Aransas Pass. The Corps of Engineers building was included in the acquisition of the land by the university.
The building survived hurricanes in 1900, 1916 and 1919, as well as hurricanes Carla, Beulah, Celia and Allen, before Harvey. Much of the building no longer included its original remnants.
“That building was a Corps of Engineers shack. It was not of historic significance to the state,” said UTMSI Director Bob Dickey at a PAPHA special board meeting on Monday, June 18. “It doesn’t even come close to resembling what it once was.”
Before Harvey, UTMSI used the building to house students during overnight field trips.
In a letter from the Texas Historical Commission (THC), UTMSI was encouraged to work with PAPHA to preserve the building. The THC noted that much of the roof panels, siding, concrete columns and suspended ceiling were not historic fabrics and had been added at later dates. The Corps of Engineers building was not listed in the National Register or as a State Antiquities Landmark.
University officials said the damage to the building was too severe to preserve.
“There were lots of tragedies from Hurricane Harvey, and this building was one of them,” UTMSI Assistant Director of External Relations Georgia Neblett said.
Neblett said there were major asbestos issues all over the building. It could be torn down as early as the end of June through a wet abatement demolition, she said.
“It can’t be repaired. We don’t have that kind of money,” Neblett said.
The abatement is estimated to cost $35,000 on the Corps of Engineers building alone, she said.
PAPHA President Greg Smith floated the idea of removing the building from the grounds of UTMSI and move it to I.B. Magee Jr. Beach Park.
Scott Cross, who is the director of Nueces County Coastal Park and a member on the PAPHA board, said it would be a great idea to turn the building into a living museum.
PAPHA board members asked if the building could be relocated, and then have the abatement done.
“They (University of Texas Rules and Regulations Department) aren’t going to allow anyone to touch it until the abatement is done,” Neblett said.
Cross said he wouldn’t want to take on an abatement that had to be done on UTMSI property.
PAPHA board members came to the realization that preserving the building was unlikely. Members discussed the possibility of a future replica or museum.
But Neblett said a museum would have to be built elsewhere because it would not be safe to have the public visit an area right next to the Amos Rehabilitation Keep.
“I don’t think we can have a public museum because of experiments and chemicals,” Neblett said.
Port Aransas Museum Director Rick Pratt asked Neblett and Dickey if some scraps could be saved following the demolition so the building continues to live.
“We’ll take a look at it,” Dickey said.
The PAPHA board unanimously approved a resolution supporting UTMSI in the decision to demolish the Corps of Engineers building.
“It leaves us little options. … We will work with UTMSI to memorialize it,” Smith said. “I wish it could be different.
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