Wilmer-Hutchins High set to house evacuees; Superintendent says area near gym is in acceptable condition

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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Wilmer-Hutchins has lost its students, but that doesn’t mean its schools will sit empty.

Some evacuees from Hurricane Katrina will be moved to the district’s high school in southern Dallas, according to Superintendent Eugene Young.

The school would normally be housing students this time of year, but a series of scandals has shut down the district and sent its children to schools in the Dallas district.

“The building is available, and we were willing to help,” Mr. Young said.

Lew Blackburn, the district’s human resources director, said the district had received calls from the Red Cross and a number of church groups seeking to use the space. He said that Wilmer-Hutchins High could hold 200 to 300 people and that shower facilities in the school’s locker rooms made it an attractive location.

The high school’s physical condition has been a sticky issue. A year ago, storm damage and a slow response by district officials left the building unable to open for the first month of school.

In July, Dallas school officials inspected the campus in hopes of using it for this school year. They said it was in such bad shape that it could not be renovated in time for the start of school.

“I don’t see how, if that space was not a good place for the students to attend seven or eight hours a day, it could be good enough for hurricane victims,” said Gilbert Gonzales, a former Wilmer-Hutchins truancy officer whom district officials asked to help clean up the school for Katrina victims. “There are still leaks in the roof. How can you put people in there?”

But Mr. Young said the part of the school that will be used by Katrina victims, near the gym, is in acceptable shape. Dr. Blackburn said county health and fire inspectors would examine the building before evacuees move in, which could be in a few days.

“We have to clean it up first,” he said.

State education commissioner Shirley Neeley announced last week that she would dissolve Wilmer-Hutchins next summer and merge its territory into the Dallas school district. That move awaits federal approval.