UTMSI building’s fate uncertain

Historic structure might be demolished due to Harvey



The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers building on the campus of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute is known as the oldest building in Port Aransas. Members of the Port Aransas Preservation and Historical Association fear the university may decide to tear the building down due to damage from Hurricane Harvey.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers building on the campus of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute is known as the oldest building in Port Aransas. Members of the Port Aransas Preservation and Historical Association fear the university may decide to tear the building down due to damage from Hurricane Harvey.

What is known as the oldest building in Port Aransas could be torn down as a result of damage from Hurricane Harvey.

Dormitory B, also known as the old Army Corps of Engineers building, at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI), could be bulldozed in the future, but a decision has yet to be made by university officials, according to Sally Palmer, a UTMSI spokesman.

The building in the back left is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers building on the campus of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute photographed in the 1960s. The building is said to be the oldest in Port Aransas. After extensive damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey, there is talk the building may be torn down, but the university is still weighing its options and has not decided what will be done to the building.

The building in the back left is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers building on the campus of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute photographed in the 1960s. The building is said to be the oldest in Port Aransas. After extensive damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey, there is talk the building may be torn down, but the university is still weighing its options and has not decided what will be done to the building.

“We don’t know yet because we don’t have definite answers on the status of the building,” Palmer said.

Although UTMSI officials have not decided what to do with the building yet, Palmer said there is a “moderate likelihood” the building could be torn down.

Port Aransas Preservation and Historical Association (PAPHA) President Rick Pratt is making a request to UT officials that they think hard before deciding whether to tear down a building with so much history. PAPHA decided as a group to pursue the salvation of the building, Pratt said.

“When looking at a catastrophe, some people think it’s damaged… so get rid of it,” Pratt said. “We just need to remind them of the significance.”

Built in the 1890s, Pratt said the building was used to house U.S. Army engineers who were building the south jetty.

“It’s the oldest building in town,” Pratt said. “It’s important, not only because of its age, but also for what it was used for.”

Once the jetty project was complete, the building was then incorporated into UTMSI in 1941, when the Marine Science Institute opened.

The structure survived the hurricanes of 1900, 1916 and 1919, as well as hurricanes Carla, Beulah, Celia and Allen.

Prior to Hurricane Harvey, UTMSI used the building as a secondary dormitory, housing elementary, middle and high school students in town for field trips, Palmer said.

It also housed students enrolled in spring and summer undergraduate programs, she said.

The building is not considered to be a top priority right now for UTMSI because other buildings that are considered first-tier also suffered damage, Palmer said.

Although it is not first-tier in the eyes of the university, Pratt believes it is one of the most important structures in Port Aransas.

“It’s an important icon to the history of this town,” Pratt said. “We would like to see it saved.”

UTMSI has no timetable on when a decision could possibly be made, Palmer said.

The structure had roof, water and structural damage, along with asbestos issues, she said.

“I don’t know the exact price of restoration, but it will be very expensive to rebuild,” Palmer said.

Pratt doesn’t believe money should be an issue in preserving the building.

“In the case of the University of Texas, I am certain they are not under-insured.” Pratt said. “They are powerful and wealthy, and I am certain they can afford to restore that building.”

Pratt fears Port Aransas may be losing some of the iconic structures the town is known for, like Bilmore and Sons hardware store.

“These buildings are a big part of the fabric of our town,” he said. “If these are torn down, it could break the hearts of many.”

Fanit Panofsky, who recently purchased Bilmore and Sons, said the 63-year-old building will be torn down after taking on five feet of water during the recent hurricane.

No decision has been made yet on whether the Community Presbyterian Church will be bulldozed, but it is a possibility, according to the Rev. Steve Shullanberger.

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